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Ordinary Days

Adam Gwon's tuneful musical about four average New Yorkers is modestly engaging. logo
Hunter Foster and Lisa Brescia in Ordinary Days
(© Joan Marcus)
In a muscial world dominated by the stories of green-faced witches, future pop music stars, and aspiring young British ballet dancers, there's something refreshing about exploring the problems of four average New Yorkers, which is the case with Ordinary Days, Adam Gwon's amiable 80-minute tuner at the Roundabout Underground at the Laura Pels Theatre. But for better and worse, these folks' smaller-than-life travails end up being only modestly engaging.

Gwon splits the focus of the show among four characters. The most interesting is Deb (the sublimely funny Kate Wetherhead), a slightly obnoxious yet obviously vulnerable graduate English student at NYU who isn't sure of anything -- from whether she wants to live in New York or write about Virginia Woolf. She is the one person here actually deserving of her own show, especially in Wetherhead's sardonic delivery.

Deb eventually meets Warren (the appealing Jared Gertner, doing his best to flesh out an underwritten role), a nebbishy artist's assistant who spends his time passing out inspirational fliers, and whom she reluctantly becomes friends after he finds her thesis on the street. The pair have some charming interactions, but Warren's story is less than compelling.

Then we have Jason and Claire (Hunter Foster and Lisa Brescia, both bringing a welcome edge to the proceedings), a yuppie couple who have just moved in together and whose relationship appears to be coming apart at the seams for reasons that remain mysterious for most of the show. 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. (Fans of Brown's The Last 5 Years may feel a particular sense of deja vu, both in the treatment of Jason and Claire and the fact that Foster and Brescia physically recall that show's original stars, Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott). His lyrics are fairly precise and he shows a penchant for gentle sophistication, particularly in "Saturday at the Met."

In fact, one suspects these tunes may benefit from repeated listening. More importantly, there's a good chance that Gwon may one day give us a more extraordinary musical than Ordinary Days. Let's just hope he doesn't have to resort to flying monkeys to do so.

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