A septet of indefatigable performers are at the core of the new a cappella musical In Transit, playing at 59E59 Theaters. The show, written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth, and directed by Joe Calarco, fuses topical revue material with the interlocking stories of four New Yorkers, as they go about their business in the city’s subway system. But the combination proves to be an uneasy one, and ultimately the revue material saps the plotline of any forward momentum.
It’s almost impossible to not be drawn into the show as two of the main characters are introduced, with Jane (Denise Summerford), a struggling actress, delivering a hilarious song about the plight of a temp in a reggae number, “No Dental,” and Trent (Tommar Wilson) bemoaning the difficulties of a four-day visit to his home state of Texas in a jaunty country western tune. In each instance, these songs are established by the characters’ subway commutes: hers to her day job and his to LaGuardia Airport.
In short order, theatergoers are introduced to Nate (Graham Stevens), an unemployed Wall Street type who bemoans the fact that he can’t even afford to add money to his Metrocard; and Ali (Hannah Laird), who’s trying to move on after a disastrous breakup. When she runs into Trent (her old roommate) on a subway platform, the quartet’s storylines begin to dovetail. Chance encounters between these two characters move their stories along, while Nate and Jane meet at a bar during happy hour after work one Friday.
The coincidences are charming, and not unlike the kinds of random interactions that New Yorkers find themselves having on a daily basis. But the stories feel shoehorned onto one another, particularly when they are punctuated by comic interludes featuring Boxman (Chesney Snow, who also provides a wide variety of “orchestrations” just using his voice), an itinerant subway musician.
An additional problem is that the stories themselves often feel generic. Nate faces coming out issues when his very religious mother (Celisse Henderson) visits; Jane’s dreams of stardom hit a snag (although this development gives rise to one of the show’s finest numbers, the rousing gospel song “A Little Friendly Advice”); and Ali finally finds the courage to realize her previous relationship has ended once she’s run into the guy who dumped her.
Ultimately, it’s the incredible vocal skills of the performers that pull the show. While their work can be wooden in the book scenes as they attempt to find their characters’ humanity, their tight harmonies and powerful voices never fails to impress. Moreover, many of the songs stand out for their cleverness and musicality.
The show’s physical production is also an asset. Scenic designer Anna Louizos provides an ingeniously flexible unit set that looks like a grimy and water-damaged subway platform that might have been devised for theatrical purposes; Jeff Croiter’s lighting design is colorful delight; and Jennifer Caprio’s costumes are consistently witty.
They help make In Transit‘s journey more pleasant, even when one is longing for the end of the trip.