Review: Ordinary Days
Image: London Theatre Workshop
Alistair Frederick as Jason
Neil Cameron as Warren
Nora Perone as Deb
Kirby Hughes as Claire
Ordinary Days follows the parallel lives of four New Yorkers struggling to find meaning in the madness: Claire, who can't let go of her past; Jason, determined to begin their future together; Warren, an artist who's lost his sense of purpose; and Deb, a student who's lost her thesis notes.
It is a witty, poignant, and ultimately very relatable story about human connection and finding beauty in unexpected places.
In his review of the original Off-Broadway production, New York Times reviewer Charles Isherwood wrote that
"Ordinary Days ... captures with stinging clarity that uneasy moment in youth when doubts begin to cloud hopes for a future of unlimited possibility."
A title like 'Ordinary Days' may not exactly fire your imagination sufficiently to have you itching to book tickets.
Titles don't always matter, and here the clear intention is to focus on ordinary people going about their daily lives.
But the title implies an obvious, underlying challenge for this work - to leverage the ordinary into the extraordinary to produce something emotionally powerful and, perhaps, unique.
With lyrics and music by award-winning American composer Adam Gwon, this is a sung-through musical, which basically means there is no dialogue here - the story and characters are revealed through songs alone.
Of course there have been plenty of smash-hit musicals which have also adopted this approach and have gone on to notch-up lengthy, record-breaking runs (for a list of sung-through musicals, or those with just a few lines of dialogue, check here).
For me, though, sung-through musicals are often problematic because we don't always get enough from the songs alone to really understand the characters and their motivations, and identify or empathise with them.
Often, the lack of dialogue can be overcome - or at least disguised somewhat - with lavish costumes, sets, a small army of musicians and great musical numbers.
But even though this commendably professional production is polished enough to impress in many ways, I still left the theatre wanting to know more about the characters.
Set in New York City, the story revolves around 4 young people - a couple, Claire and Jason, who are just moving-in to live together; Warren, an aspiring artist who distributes leaflets with inspiring messages around the city; and Deb who is a reluctant graduate student doing a thesis on Virginia Woolf, who provides much of the limited humour in the piece.
Surprisingly, we don't get that peculiarly unique brand of humour which I've certainly experienced on my rare visits to NYC, which seems a lost opportunity given the locale.
As a concept, Ordinary Days has an obvious appeal for small theatre companies, as here for Streetlights, People! - the show has a small cast, requires a minimal setting and can be executed with just solo piano accompaniment, as opposed to an expensive and expansive orchestra of dozens.
Though the running time is short at around 70 minutes, the show is crammed with 21 songs which form an intricate and demanding score.
That complexity doesn't daunt the confident cast, well-drilled by musical director Rowland Braché who keeps the whole enterprise moving along at a brisk and unflagging pace with his fine piano accompaniment.
The songs are generally melodic and tuneful and get more interesting and appealing as the show proceeds, and are well-sung by the cast - in particular, Alistair Frederick shines with his rendition of 'Favorite Places'.
Tight direction from Jen Coles elicits nicely-drawn and differentiated characters, but in spite of her efforts, we never get to a musically-driven or story-powered emotional crescendo - the ordinariness embodied in the title lingers with stubborn persistence, even if there is some dramatic and musical progression along the way.
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