Monday, October 26, 2009

Ordinary Days


Music and lyrics by Adam Gwon. Directed by Marc Bruni. Musical direction by Vadim Feichtner. At the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. (CLOSED)

"Promising" is an odd credential to give a new artist, though it's one level better than "emerging." Depending on the critic, "promising" means either the start of something wonderful (NYTimes) or the plea for something wonderful to materialize (TONY, NYPost). Adam Gwon's 75-minute chamber musical Ordinary Days receives a smart, crisp staging at Roundabout's intimate Underground space. But most critics think Gwon has used his considerable talent to express the "ordinary" with too much fidelity: despite the title, they want more tonal or melodic variety in the music. It's either too little of a good thing or too expertly ordinary, which leaves the critics praising the craft and execution of this production while dreaming of a more fulfilling future one.

New York Times A-
(Charles Isherwood) “Ordinary Days,” ... captures with stinging clarity that uneasy moment in youth when doubts begin to cloud hopes for a future of unlimited possibility. A modest musical produced with an apt intimacy and expertly sung by an appealing cast, “Ordinary Days” introduces a promising newcomer to our talent-hungry musical theater, the composer and lyricist Adam Gwon. Mr. Gwon writes crisp, fluid and often funny lyrics that reflect the racing minds of the four New Yorkers on a nervous search for their immediate futures. His music is lean on melody and less effective — some stretches of the first half of this (nearly) sung-through 80-minute score seem interchangeable — but the songs in the final scenes have a greater reach and variety.

Backstage B
(Erik Haagensen) Out of context, the individual songs are undoubtedly impressive; strung together, they diminish each other ... Gwon is fortunate to have such a fine cast to deliver his show. Jared Gertner is sweet and lovably eccentric as Warren, who could easily come off as hopelessly annoying. Kate Wetherhead is spiky and amusing as Deb, who gets some of Gwon's wittiest lyrics, delivered by Wetherhead with rapier-like aplomb. Lisa Brescia excels at suggesting Claire's unexplained disaffectedness without alienating the audience. As Jason, Hunter Foster brings the force of his personality to another contemporary urban cipher and makes the character as interesting as he can. All four sing powerfully, and it is a pleasure to hear the unamplified results under Vadim Feichtner's precise musical direction in the intimate Roundabout Black Box space. Director Marc Bruni's staging is simple and swift on Lee Savage's nearly bare stage backed by stacks of changing colored-light boxes. Jeff Croiter illuminates it cleanly, and Lisa Zinni's contemporary costumes fill the bill just fine.

Associated Press B
(Michael Kuchwara) Director Marc Bruni has paced the show well. It moves at a steady, unrushed pace, played out against a backdrop of brightly lighted squares that change color as frequently as the characters' emotions in this slight slice of big-city life.

Time Out New York B-
(Adam Feldman) Gwon is a young writer of significant promise, who might benefit from working with collaborators next time around, especially a book writer or dramaturg. His main problem, right now, is a tendency to write in a neocabaret storytelling mode—I did this, then I did that, and then this happened—that too often strands his characters in the past tense and leaves them singing to an invisible therapist. If he can look more to the present and the future, he might be capable of extraordinary things.

Theatre Mania B-
(Brian Scott Lipton) But for better and worse, these folks' smaller-than-life travails end up being only modestly engaging ... Early on, in a very fine song called "Let Things Go," it's hinted that Claire's failure to fully love the remarkably patient Jason is tied to some past trauma. And it turns out to be a mistake for Gwon to wait until the penultimate number in the show, a beautiful and haunting ballad called "I'll Be Here," to further reveal Claire's tragedy. While he succeeds in creating a true "aha" moment, our sympathy for and understanding of the pair's dilemma would be much richer if we knew earlier about their particular dynamic. Marc Bruni's simple production keeps the focus on Gwon's songs (played simply on the piano by the excellent Vadim Feichtner), which are consistenly listenable. Still, Gwon's music lacks some originality, as it often echoes the sound of both Jason Robert Brown and Stephen Schwartz in their pop-theater mode.

New York Post C+
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) The conventional situations aren't enhanced by the undistinguishable tunes. It's as if Gwon wrote one 75-minute piece, then cut it in 18 slices. And because the show is sung through, the numbers must carry the narrative and often are overly verbose. Fortunately, the likable cast, well directed by Marc Bruni and backed by pianist Vadim Feichtner, injects personality into archetypes. Wetherhead and Gertner, in particular, overcome clich├ęs, and Brescia shines in the next-to-last song, "I'll Be Here," a highly emotional number that obliterates everything that precedes it. At long last, the show has transcended its title.

Talkin' Broadway C+
(Matthew Murray) All the songs, whether set on the streets, on a Union Square rooftop, or in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, canter at exactly the same pace, with exactly the same lilts in exactly the same places. The lyrics always rhyme, and well, but always and only as you expect them to ... So deciding what to make of Gwon’s amiably ambling show, which has been stylishly directed by Marc Bruni, is not easy ... Most of Ordinary Days, then, relies on your own affection for those onstage. They’re all highly likable, with Gertner particularly endearing as a good-natured artistic soul selling too much of himself to make ends meet, and Brescia very convincing as a grown woman still struggling with her innate objections to little-girl frustrations. Foster, a bit uptight for the free-spirited Jason, and Wetherhead, who tends to mistake Deb’s all-consuming faux sophistication as the real thing, have it slightly tougher, but still reveal compelling colors in their characters. They all come across especially well in their songs, which they sing - gloriously sans microphones - against Vadim Feichtner’s fiercely controlled piano playing. And they’re all of a piece with Lee Savage's elegant light-board-skyscape set, which Jeff Croiter smartly illuminates. The evening as a whole, however, takes too few chances to ever completely cohere into anything truly transporting.

Curtain Up C+
(Miriam Colin) As for the music generally, the lyrics are quite witty and don't strain to land their rhymes. The melodies are less memorable but that may be because they just keep coming on which tends to weaken the overall impact. As with any musical, the tunes might resonate more with repeated listening. The somewhat bland and archetypical underpinnings notwithstanding, the excellent cast and attractive staging makes this a pleasantly enjoyable 80 minutes. Director Marc Bruno does manage to bring out what's best about this little show, its flavor of the anonymity of a huge city like New York which nevertheless allows strangers to connect and affect each other — shades of the ever popular anecdotes in The New York Times "Metropolitan Diary" column.

Variety C
(Marilyn Stasio) For all the technical proficiency of Gwon's work and Marc Bruni's staging, the musical is buried under its own banality ... Only Claire (a sweet-voiced Lisa Brescia) has a legitimate arc to play in her final solo, "I'll Be Here" -- and to give it away would spoil the show's sole moving moment. With three new shows coming up and significant grant-inducing work behind him, Gwon has hardly trashed his rep as one of those gifted young creatives everyone wants a piece of. He sets his smooth, easily digestible melodies to clever, nonthreatening lyrics that have a remarkable narrative thrust to them. That takes genuine talent. But so does writing characters with real brains and honest feelings -- and that's one talent Gwon hasn't quite mastered on his own.

New York Daily News C-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Newcomer Adam Gwon has written 18 tunes, with a couple of very pretty melodies and too much predictable poetry. The repetitive tempos and tone of the music, however, make you zone out, not hone in. Too bad, since it all knits together in a climax of unexpected poignance.

Read more:

Village Voice D
(Michael Feingold) Adam Gwon's Ordinary Days (Roundabout Underground) is a pallid, tenuous, incessantly pattery little musical, about four pallidly characterized people, that lives down to its title. Gwon is worth encouraging, though his lyrics at present show much more skill than his music does. But the assumption that this sketchy 80-minute event constituted a full evening of theater fits the pattern of an institution where artistic decisions seem to be made randomly, not responsibly.

New York Times A- 12; Backstage B 10; Associated Press B 10; TONY B- 9; TheatreMania B- 9; New York Post C+ 8; Talkin' Broadway C+ 8; Curtain Up C+ 8; Variety C 7; NY Daily News C- 6; Village Voice D 4. TOTAL: 91/11 = 8.27 (C+)


Anonymous said...

How is a 9.2 average a C+?

Karl Miller said...

My apologies. The grade has been corrected. We've just crossed the 5-review minimum for this production, so the grade will no doubt change again when other reviews come in.