'In Transit': Theater Review

Joan Marcus
The cast of 'In Transit'
The terrific vocal arrangements are the highlight of this otherwise bland, cliched musical.

Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Oscar winner for 'Frozen,' is among the composer-authors of this a cappella Broadway musical about the intertwined lives of several New Yorkers.

It’s not quite accurate to say you’ll leave the new Broadway musical In Transit humming the score. But you’ll undoubtedly be raving about the vocal arrangements.

The show, written and composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez (an Oscar winner for a song you may have heard once or twice, “Let It Go” from Frozen), James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsmith represents — as the publicity breathlessly exclaims — "Broadway’s first a cappella musical.” There are no musicians providing the music, only the performers’ voices, accompanied by vocal percussion from its narrator, “Boxman,” a beatbox virtuoso played by Chesney Snow or Steven “HeaveN” Cantor, depending which performance you attend.

The appeal of paying Broadway prices for such an experience can be debated. More to the point, In Transit, while boasting engaging performances, features cliched characters and situations too bland for a sitcom, let alone theater.

Set largely in and around the New York City subway system, the anecdotal storyline centers on several intertwined characters dealing with — what else? — career and love issues. They include Trent (Justin Guarini), who’s afraid to tell his Texan, religious mother (Moya Angela) of his plans to marry his “roommate” Steven (Telly Leung); Nate (James Snyder), a recently fired Wall Street worker, dead broke and desperate to find a new job; Ali (Erin Mackey), channeling her grief over the recent end of a relationship into a rigorous running routine; and Jane (Margo Seibert, last seen on Broadway as Adrian in the short-lived musical version of Rocky), a frustrated, aspiring actress mostly working as a temp.

The transit system setting allows for a series of running jokes, including Nate’s unfortunate encounters with a surly subway token booth attendant (Angela again). That the show has been in development for well over a decade — it was seen off-Broadway in 2006 — is made evident by that character, since encountering an actual manned token booth these days is akin to finding the Holy Grail.

The bouncy score, ranging stylistically from doo-wop to pop to gospel, has been ingeniously arranged by Deke Sharon, who performed similar chores on the two Pitch Perfect movies. Its pleasures, however, are somewhat negated by the overly heavy amplification, which rivals that of a rock concert.

Veteran director Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes, The Pajama Game) keeps the fast-paced proceedings running far more smoothly than the transit system that provides the backdrop, with Donyale Werle’s versatile set, incorporating a moving walkway, effectively suggesting a variety of locations.

But other than the undeniably impressive vocal performances, the show is mostly forgettable. Early in the evening, we’re informed that the average metropolitan commute takes one hour from door to door. In Transit runs just 95 minutes without an intermission, which means you’ll likely spend more time getting to and from the theater. It can probably be put to better use.

Venue: Circle in the Square, New York
Cast: David Abeles, Moya Angela, Justin Guarini, Telly Leung, Erin Mackey, Gerianne Perez, Margo Siebert, Chesney Snow, Steven “HeaveN” Cantor, James Snyder, Mariand Torres, Nicholas Ward
Book, music and lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, Sara Wordsmith
Director-choreographer: Kathleen Marshall
Set designer: Donyale Werle
Costume designer: Clint Ramos
Lighting designer: Donald Holder
Sound designer: Ken Travis

Music supervisor: Rick Hip-Flores
A cappella arrangements: Deke Sharon

Presented by Janet B. Rosen, Marvin S. Rosen, Robert F. Smith, Jeff Hecktman, Ed Rendell/Kenneth Jarin, Manny Medina, Frankel/Viertel/Baruch/Routh Group, Hello Entertainment/David Garfinkle, Michael S. Falk/Annie Falk, Karen Miehiel, Robert Sher/Sharon Azrieli, Mark Davis/Yoly Davis, Deke Sharon, Sleep Tite Productions

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