REVIEW: A revival of Adam Gwon’s quietly extraordinary “Ordinary Days” by Keen Company
What does New York City sound like? Woody Allen heard Gershwin. More often, I hear Gwon.
That’s Adam Gwon, composer/lyricist of “Ordinary Days”, a delightful chamber musical that had its New York premiere at Roundabout Theatre Company in 2009, and now kicks off Keen Company’s 19th season in an Off-Broadway revival featuring new orchestrations and a suite of engaging performances. This is one sweet, quietly extraordinary musical that cleanses the soul, lifts the spirit, and reminds you what you love about New York.
A “semi, could be, quasi, sort of” New York fairytale that is almost entirely sung, “Ordinary Days” features two story lines involving four characters in duo-ed tracks that only really cross at the start and in the end, backed by a three piece band, the bass and reeds fleshing out Mr. Gwon’s already charming score (orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin), previously only performed by piano.
Warren (Kyle Sherman) is a twenty-something dreamer who is cat-sitting in the fancy downtown loft of an artist incarcerated for vandalism. An artist himself, still trying to figure out his “life story”, he passes time handing out multi-colored flyers with inspirational, fortune cookie-like phrases, and collecting things like a discarded photo or an un-opened valentine.
Deb (Sarah Lynn Marion), a brusque and cynical grad student from “the middle of nowhere” whose “penmanship crackles with rage” takes one of those flyers before inadvertently leaving a binder of her thesis notes on a bench in Union Square, which Warren finds (paging “Amelie”) and returns to her at a meeting at the Met, complete with the requisite Monet/Manet joke.
Meanwhile, the charismatic and romantic Jason (Marc delaCruz, “If/Then”) is finally closing the “space between” he and his girlfriend (14 blocks) by moving in with her. Claire (Whitney Bashor, “The Bridges of Madison County”), while engaging in the joy of purging her apartment of accumulated stuff, reveals she is wounded by something from her past that keeps her from taking the next step forward with Jason. The two reminisce about completing Time Out New York’s “Top 10 things to do in New York before you leave it”, and get caught in Times Square traffic and in the rain, as they search their hearts.
Over the course of 90 minutes, the relationships between Warren and Deb and Jason and Claire build toward an emotionally-satisfying and ecstatic close. More often than not, though, I was more eager to follow Warren and Debs’s scrappy, budding friendship than Jason and Claire’s frustrated relationship, the pace of whose story burns slower and, for most of the show, is less interesting.
Mr. Gwon’s genre of musical storytelling is reminiscent of the 1990s and the rise of what was then a new guard of composer/lyricists like William Finn, Michael John LaChiusa, and Jason Robert Brown. His tonally complete score for “Ordinary Days” is not derivative, but complementary, summoning an urgent sentimentality that is never gooey, but brims with heart.
Nearly every song is tinged with longing, a soft and occasionally explosive anxiety that reflects the city it seeks to sketch. That 1990s musical theatre sound, which in 2007—when the show premiered—may not have been intentional, goes a long way toward subtly establishing the musical’s recent past setting, alongside the presence of flip phones and a clunky laptop, and the reveal of a defining, tragic moment in Claire’s life.
All four performers are outstanding in this simple, beautiful, and original story about how small acts and interactions can change lives. The mission of Keen Company is to create “theater that provokes identification, reflection and emotional connection”, to tell “stories in which people strive to live with integrity”, and to share “theater that champions sincerity and speaks to life’s profound moments”. I cannot imagine a better vehicle to fulfill this mission than “Ordinary Days”.
Bottom Line: Keen Company’s revival of Adam Gwon’s delightful chamber musical “Ordinary Days” cleanses the soul, lifts the spirit, and reminds you what you love about New York. All four performers in this almost entirely sung show are outstanding as they tell a simple, beautiful, and original story about how small acts and interactions can change lives. This sweet and quietly extraordinary musical is a must-see.
at the Clurman Theatre in Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: October 17, 2018
Final Performance: November 17, 2018