Ordinary Days is another entry into the roster of weaker musicals that have been showing up lately in regional theatre. This particular piece is being performed at South Coast Repertory, but La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe have also presented one or two of these pop-style musicals with passable songs and weak storyline. One can’t blame South Coast Repertory for this lackluster musical. It is well directed by Ethan McSweeney, sung well by its talented cast (Nancy Anderson, David Burnham, Nick Gabriel, and Deborah S. Craig) and sports one of the best sets (by Fred Kinney) I have seen this season.
Playwright Adam Gwon has written some OK songs (with one terrific song about 9/11 in the last half) and he shows great promise as a lyricist capable of writing snappy, often-amusing lyrics. Perhaps most significantly, the show comes recommended by Christopher Isherwood in the New York Times and was produced for the Roundabout, one of New York’s foremost producing organizations.
So how come this reviewer felt so unsatisfied? Well, first of all, thirtyish angst about living in New York has little relevance to the lives of people in Southern California. The story is about two couples. The first is played by Anderson and Burnham, and they are your average couple with issues about commitment. We find out at the end of the piece that Anderson’s character was previously married to someone killed in the collapse of the towers on 9/11. A very moving song, but it feels stuck on because we never get to really care about this neurotic couple. The main emphasis of their story seems to be hearing David Burnham hit all those high notes. He sings well but after awhile I was only listening to these blasts of power at the top of his range.
The second couple fares better. We find a neurotic gay man (Nick Gabriel) trying to find a connection in his newly adopted city. He chooses a disgruntled college student who is trying to figure out how to write about Virginia Wolff, with whom she shows no affinity. She loses her notes and the guy finds them so their story is about breaking down barriers and becoming friends. Both the performers are engaging and very funny.
Their story might have made a good musical. Gwon is trying to show how lonely one can be in New York and how connecting with people and ultimately the city is the only way to survive. But there are lots of holes in the story. I already mentioned that we find out about couple one only near the end. We don’t really know who they are. The same could be said about the second couple – we don’t know why the guy feels compelled to connect with the irritating though funny student.
Ordinary Days plays at South Coast Repertory until Jan. 24th.