The Review: Keen Company’s Ordinary Days
It’s the first NY revival of Adam Gwon’s acclaimed Ordinary Days, directed by Keen Artistic Director Jonathan Silverstein since it played at the Roundabout’s off-Broadway theatre in 2009. The feisty and fun musical follows four very unique characters, Claire, Jason, Warren and Deb, as they individually set out on the streets of New York City to embrace all the city has to offer. The four membered cast sounds good and strong, exemplifying each character with quirky qualities and mannerisms that enhance their Ordinary Days and the ordinary lives that intersect and connect.
One by one, each of these souls enter and cross the simple geometrically orchestrated stage, designed with a clean brushstroke by Steven Kemp (Keen’s Tick… Tick, Boom!) with lighting by Anshuman Bhatia (Keen’s Lonely Planet) and costumes by Jennifer Paar (Keen’s Later Life). They desperately or hopefully go about their day in a nervous search for a hopeful future and a meaningful connection with another, whether they know it or not. The intro songs for each are crisp and smart, floating out the funny and whimsical lyrics effortlessly with clarity and charm. Each are a bit lost, even as they find one another, noting that the specks of color and light are exact and beautiful, but when looked at from a-far, blend and collide into something far more vibrant then what they were singularly before. Seurat would be proud of the metaphor that Warren, played with an effervescent sweetness by Kyle Sherman (off-Broadway’s Pete the Cat) uses when he first meets Deb, sarcastically played with a robust power by the wonderful Sarah Lynn Marion (Muny’s All Shook Up). Deb’s letter to her “…Professor Thompson” scores big with her finely tuned delivery as does Warren’s “Life Story” giving is a window into their hearts and souls as they search for their sort-of-fairy tale ending in this “Hundred Story City“.
And one by one by one, the four separate souls become two pairs; one romantic and one platonic. Whitney Bashor (The Bridges of Madison County, off-Broadway’s Himself and Nora) as Claire soars through the musical moments with a fluidity and professionalism that makes her stand apart, in a role that initially seems the dullest but transforms into something quite spectacular. Marc delaCruz (CSC’s Pacific Overtures) as the move-in boyfriend, Jason, is super appealing and adorable but doesn’t exactly rise to the same level as his partner, although their “Fine” is much more than just that. It flits and flirts its way quite wisely and wittily through a falling apart in such a real solid way. It clearly and wisely presents the moment when two people use a small thing to reflect something deeper and more problematic. Their story builds well upon itself, unleashing the well known “I’ll Be Here” that is powerful and emotionally raw, but oddly out of place. It tells a beautiful story of an ordinary day that becomes anything but, and a heart break that resonates strongly within. It wraps together a lot of ideas that were casually tossed forward by Claire earlier, but seems heavier than any of the other moments of floating colored papers that fall from the upper stories. Not a terrible thing, by any means, but it made me wish for more truly deep and emotionally connecting moments within this light hearted production. It gives us something more, and it points out the less.
Deb and Warren’s partnership and exploration into each other’s motivation and momentum starts out strong and quirky, drawing us into their uniqueness with charm and authenticity. Sadly the writing fails to find a way to keep their story climbing the stairs higher and higher. And in the end, these two pairs barely collide into one another beyond the by-chance pieces of floating paper. Ordinary Days tries hard to capture the nerve wrecking uneasy moment of growth that gets thrust on the young adults of New York as they search through rain, taxi rides, museums, and wine store purchases for a view into the big picture window that might possibly reveal the unlimited possibility of the future.
Originally produced at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, the show floats back and forth between the two pairs with ease and determination. I wanted a bit more collision between the two couples as they search for connection and meaning in their day to day lives, trying to find the “Beautiful” and the “Calm” of letting things go and getting entangled in something new. This Ordinary Days, with musical direction by John Bell (Fiddler on the Roof) , sound design by Alex Hawthron (Prospect/59E59’s The Mad Ones), and new orchestrations created specifically for Keen Company by Bruce Coughlin (Broadway’s War Paint) vibrantly and joyfully intersects catchy tunes with smart and charming lyrics. Adam Gwon (Old Jews Telling Jokes) has created an Ordinary Days that’s clever and musically charming, although not as deeply engaging as it is sweet and tender. Fighting through the noise and traffic of the city, Ordinary Days arrives at its journey’s end with clarity and kindness, driven forward with beguiling sweet songs that will stay pleasantly inside as you exit into the very same streets of the musical’s dynamic. They won’t hang around too long in your conscious brain as the weight, beyond that one song, is too flighty and paper thin to help anyone arrive at a clearer sense of who they are and what they want to be.