Given the diversity of characters that Riley's assembled -- from Lloyd (the commanding Mel Johnson, Jr.), a Shakespeare-quoting homeless man on the train who also serves as the show's narrator to the God-fearing educator Sue (movingly played by Beth McVey), who's harboring a deeply held grief -- it's little wonder the show is packed with numbers that brim with everything form R&B and Latin rhythms to liturgical cadences. Further, Riley impressively synthesizes these varied styles into a traditional musical theater vernacular.
Unfortunately, the script -- which raises issues of racial bigotry, abortion, and suicide, among others, as well as dark secrets for a majority of the characters -- more often than not sounds like a well-meaning soap opera. And as hidden pregnancies are revealed and characters spew (sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not) their prejudices, the show, rather than being the uplifting exploration of the similarities that unite us all that Riley intends, becomes all New Yorkers' worst nightmare subway scenario.
Michael Berry directs the piece with solid economy and elicits some fiercely committed -- if not always convincing -- performances from his ensemble. Particularly notable are EJ Zimmerman, who brings ironic passion to her turn as a Korean-American with little patience for immigrants newly arrived in the U.S., and Anita Welch, who gives a sensitively rendered performance as an African-American woman going through a rough patch in the world above the stopped train.
-- Andy Propst