Kyle Sherman and Sarah Lynn Marion in ‘Ordinary Days.’ (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Four lives intersect on the streets of New York City in Ordinary Days, a revival of Adam Gwon’s 2008 musical presented by Keen Company at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre. How interesting or believable those lives are might depend on your perspective of New York City and our collective love/hate relationship with the concrete jungle we call home.
Delivered through an 18-part song cycle that echoes Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom! (successfully revived by Keen Company in 2016) and less linear song collections such as Maltby and Shire’s Closer Than Ever (receiving an all-star benefit performance for Abingdon Theatre Company on October 22) and Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World, Mr. Gwon’s work forgoes book scenes and, instead, connects the dots through sung narrative.
We meet Warren (played with Newsies enthusiasm by Kyle Sherman), a lanky artist’s assistant who’s trying to find personal connection amid the city’s bustling streets. He discovers the lost notebook of Deb (Sarah Lynn Marion, the show’s highlight), a raging graduate student who’s been quickly hardened by her surroundings. In whizzy traffic patterns staged by director Jonathan Silverstein, they cross paths with Jason (an awkwardly overzealous Marc delaCruz) and Claire (a bland Whitney Bashor until her 11 o’clock number), a couple on the brink of breaking up or deepening their relationship.
As the title suggests, there is nothing extraordinary about each character’s journey, and Mr. Gwon achieves varying degrees of success in turning the mundane into the magical. Millennials Warren and Deb have clearer storylines, which makes connecting with them a bit more accessible. Jason and Claire, on the other hand, are thinly outlined. Neutrally costumed by Jennifer Paar, Claire may be employed in some sort of office job, while Jason briefly mentions a drafting table — leaving the audience to drift in and out of what makes their daily lives tick. Most of the latter pair’s trajectory is about the resolution of their relationship, but there’s such little chemistry between Ms. Bashor and Mr. DelaCruz that it’s like listening to casual acquaintances at a dinner party whine about this or that when what you really care about is refilling your champagne flute.
Ms. Marion joyously finds her way into Mr.Gwon’s score, which provides her with zingy, self-realizations (“I actually lived on a cul-de-sac. That’s literally a road that goes nowhere.”) and an arc that has us rooting in her corner. We also come to realize why Claire is emotionally disconnecting from Jason in the show’s most vulnerable song, “I’ll Be Here.” Musical theater fans may be familiar with Audra McDonald’s recording, which appears on her 2013 album Go Back Home. Hearing it in this context packs an even bigger wallop, but these shining moments aren’t enough to illuminate Ordinary Days’ fleeting emotional authenticity.
The production isn’t helped by Steven Kemp’s budget-friendly set, which consists of scrim-covered scaffolding that bisects the playing area with angles perhaps meant to emulate a skyscraper. From my far-right vantage point, the visual impact and Anshuman Bhatia’s shadow-heavy lighting distracted from Mr. Gwon’s otherwise naturalistic sensibility.
Warren, the ultimate optimist, at play’s end, releases into the air flyers with positive affirmations that he’s been distributing to wary New Yorkers. The rainbow of paper — stenciled with phrases like “Success is not a destination but a journey.” and “Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.” — are the daily mantras of many artists attempting to create work. I’m curious to see where Mr. Gwon’s musical journey takes him next.
Keen Company at The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
Through November 17
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.