Theater review: Adirondack Theater Festival’s ‘Ordinary Days’ is extraordinary production

Move over Jason Robert Brown, stand aside Michael John LaChuisa and make room Ricky Ian Jay: Compose

Categories: Entertainment

Move over Jason Robert Brown, stand aside Michael John LaChuisa and make room Ricky Ian Jay: Composer/author Adam Gwon may not have the requisite three monikers of his modern musical theater contemporaries, but this new name on the drama scene commands some attention.

Let’s get right to the point: Gwon’s new musical “Ordinary Days” is a gem of a show.

Written in the fashionable style of a sung-through story (think “The Last Five Years”), “Ordinary Days” is a modern-day urban fable with its themes firmly planted in the most ancient of human needs — communication.

In an age where we are all interlinked by myriad social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace comes a tale of four people still stalled at that common and painful disconnect.

It’s an ordinary day. Warren, a young man who distributes flyers on the street extolling the virtues of wisdom and art, is filling his day dreaming about other people’s lives by collecting unopened valentines and photos he finds on the street. Deb sitting on a bench with coffee and her computer, is reassuring herself that graduate school is the right choice, isolating herself further in a world of words. Thirtysomething couple Jason and Claire are planning a party, talking and walking around each other instead of arranging a walk down the aisle together. Seems familiar.

Not what they seem

But with the loss of a simple little written notebook, the ground shifts and the air changes. An ordinary day becomes something quite different.

With a score full of modern emotions and lovely ballads (maybe one or two too many), Gwon weaves an urban tale of self-discovery into a journey each one of us just needs to take once in a while. Stop, step back and look what’s happening here. It’s not so ordinary.

Adam Armstrong, as the overly earnest Warren, manages to balance the weird with the warm and leads us into this city of strangers with his heartfelt wish to connect the dots. By observing and creating other people’s life stories, he is finally able to create a world of which he is a part. Armstrong’s behest to look at the “Big Picture” is a wonderful wake-up call for us all.

In an exquisitely controlled turn as Deb, Dana Steingold delivers a pint-size powerhouse performance with a cunning and knowing candor that never overstays its welcome. From her opening song “Don’t Want to Be Here” to her over-caffeinated treatise “Calm”, Steingold is a delight in every scene she steals. Think Kristen Chenoweth without the cloy. Her scenes with Armstrong are a study in contrast and balance. Their first encounter where they meet at The Met is a notable delight.

As the couple on the verge, Will Reynolds and Amy Justman have the bulk of the evening’s angst. Trapped in a town with which he cannot relate, Reynolds successfully conveys Jason’s confusion and hurt as he tries to connect with one who is determined to break the link. His “Seeing You There” takes us back to the beginning of where it was really just right and his duet with Claire, “Fine”, is a classic example of the argument not being about the words that we are using.

Justman’s Claire may have the hardest story arc (with a final reveal that explains her pain — maybe just a bit too late), but every note by the actress is true and honest from a woman on a precipice in the frantic “Cancelling the Party” to a pleading gasp for air in a taxi bound for nowhere in “Gotta Get Out.”

Seemless tapestry

But the evening truly belongs to Adam Gwon. Having four characters trapped at a place in their life where they don’t want to be, could easily slip into an exercise in self-expressed torment, but in his hands it becomes something more. Deftly telling the tale through his score and words, not in front — it’s an almost complete and seamless tapestry. Artful, even. Gwon is able to banish most of the pretentiousness and bombast that sometimes overwhelms similar versions of this tale. Here it is presented quite simply and honestly.

Yes, at times the story becomes a bit too precious, but to borrow a line from the play, it spoke to me.

Grand success to Adirondack Theater Festival’s 15th season with a most extraordinary little show.

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