Ordinary Days: Theater Review
A New York City-set musical of contemporary twenty-something anxiety comes to the San Fernando Valley.
Boy meets girl in the Big Apple, times two: this timeworn premise actually delivers a jolt of freshness almost entirely attributable to the songwriting prowess of Adam Gwon, whose talent was announced when this completely sung musical first opened at New York’s Roundabout in 2009. Though the project can reek of a calling-card endeavor, Gwon’s facility with narrative and character continually overcomes the essential banality of the storyline.
Warren (Reggie De Leon) house-sits a cat for an imprisoned guerrilla conceptual artist who plastered flyers with fortune-cookie messages on public spaces. Pathologically optimistic, Warren would otherwise be one step above a bag-person without his cushy gig. He importunes passersby with the fliers and picks up discarded items on the street to fetishize and cherish. Acerbic Deb (Katie Kitani), a fugitive from a dead-end small town, has come to New York for grad school, although her ambitions lean more toward acquiring material accoutrements of validation than scholarship. When she loses her precious research notebook for her thesis, Warren finds it and seeks to return it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Meanwhile, new arrival Jason (William Martinez) has in short order moved in with his new girlfriend, Claire (Anne Schroeder), and they negotiate the perilous shoehorning of one person’s stuff into another’s small apartment.
Under these circumstances it’s a great relief not to endure these characters’ dialogue but rather instead to experience it through 18 songs, nearly all of which crackle with lively tunes and unhackneyed lyrics. Gwon has the craft to avoid forced rhymes and tired underscoring. He supplies sparkle to animate the charm of his four young singers, all of whom purvey polished voices and engaging manners. Inescapably, the eccentric comedic couple has an easier time winning our goodwill than the more stolid, relationship-challenged breeder pair (though Martinez’s deft crooning has enlivened many a Musical Theatre Guild offering in the past), just as the clever patter songs tend to delight more securely than the anthemic ballads. Nevertheless, true to public taste, the most calculated rouser, “I’ll Be Here,” a climactic declaration of commitment to love, has become the quasi-standard, covered by star artists including Audra McDonald.
This kind of small show with deliberately circumscribed ambitions makes a pleasantly surprisingly exemplar of old-fashioned musical comedy values without breaking new ground. Thankfully, Gwon has moved on to greater ambitions: his controversial and daring collaboration with Octavio Solis, Cloudlands, a musical about a teen suicide, justifiably roused serious attention in its premiere last year at South Coast Repertory, so he has moved from a talent to watch to a legitimate player. It all started here.
Venue: Victory Theatre Center, Burbank (runs through Sept. 29)
Cast: Reggie De Leon, Amir Levi, Katie Kitani, William Martinez, Anne Schroeder
Director: Angel Creeks
Book, Music & Lyrics: Adam Gwon
Music directors: Alby Potts, P. Matthew Park
Set designer: Frank Pepito
Lighting designer: Wynn Zucchero
Sound designer: Dayne Donnell