Review of Keen Company's Ordinary Days at Theatre Row

  • Our critic's rating:
    October 18, 2018
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    From the first bars of music, Ordinary Days let's you know you have walked squarely into the happy world of musical theater. Engaging and unpretentious, the music by Adam Gwon, and performers are right in the pocket. However, the music eventually loses pace with the story, causing the charm to wear thin.

    I had great hopes when the evening began. Ordinary Days starts with a laugh, in the first of many clever songs, wherein Warren (Kyle Sherman), a bubbly little oddball of a guy, tries to comprehend how and why he found his way to New York City. He is a bit of a stranger in a strange land, dealing with the inherent anonymity of living in a city with 8 million people. Sherman is very winning in this role, and he makes a quirky character even more interesting than as written. Sarah Lynn Marion as the peripatetic academic Deb has her own idiosyncrasies but her character is less clear. She delivers her 'I don't want to be here' story very well, but nonetheless remains somewhat inchoate. This is particularly apparent once Deb crosses paths with Warren. When Jason (Marc delaCruz) arrives on the scene, he's leading man handsome and believably love struck, if a little less vocally self-assured. As delaCruz's love interest Claire, Whitney Bashor operates on a whole other level. She takes stage with ease. You feel immediately that much lies beneath the pretty smile. She is also an excellent singer with a well integrated voice and a particularly lovely soprano range. The other three singers are also clearly well trained. However, at a handful of moments in the show each found himself straining a little at the top.

    Contrary to the music, the set has immediate subtle and dramatic impact, which continues to evolve as the musical progresses. With the ingenious use of simple vertical canvas panels to screen the onstage band and define the playing space, set designer Steven C. Kemp, has created, in combination with Anshuman Bhatia's beautiful, painterly lighting, a simple multi-tasking set. It is stunning. Lighting changes turn the panels from screens to backdrops to lighting instruments in and of themselves. Through this innovative device, Kemp and Bhatia have created layers of light and texture, expanding the depth of the small stage at Theatre Row.

    From behind their screened-in space, the band, consisting of musical director and pianist John Bell, with clarinetist Jeremy Clayton and John Convertino on bass, deliver the right sound, keeping the music going without imposing themselves.

    This show has so much going for it: grand ideas of secrets and loss; how do we fill the emptiness; how do we know we are really alive. The way the characters' life stories intertwine, and the arresting central image bring the past alive in a unique way. Unfortunately, the music doesn't entirely keep up. It is consistent and comfortable but not memorable. After a while it began to sound like the same song being sung over and over again. This became particularly apparent because the show is almost entirely sung. I feel Gwon is holding himself back musically, which renders Ordinary Days both underwritten and over reaching. However, I am confident that he could dig into the material and find more texture and variety. It would be well worth the effort.

    (Photo by Carol Rosegg)