Also see Scott's review of Dreamgirls
The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio, has long been known for supporting new musicals, whether they are on their way to New York, or are just leaving, as is the case with Ordinary Days. This four- person musical played Off-Broadway in late 2009 and receives a worthwhile production in its regional premiere at Human Race.
Ordinary Days tells the story (well, actually two parallel stories) of four New Yorkers seeking connection in a city of strangers. The piece is the work of Adam Gwon, who supplies the book, music and lyrics. The book has a nice balance of quirky humor and mature insights on relationships, with a surprise twist toward the end that that emphasizes the need for connecting with others in this sometimes harsh world. Gwon provides fun songs that possess jaunty melodies, as well as introspective ballads with music that captures the emotional ups and downs of life, and his lyrics contain sufficient wit and solid craftsmanship throughout. There are musical moments that invoke thoughts of Jason Robert Brown and David Shire, though not quite achieving the level of their more refined talents. Song highlights include the bouncy "Life Story," the humorous "Calm," and "Gotta Get Out," chronicling a near nervous breakdown of a character not sure where to go in her life.
It may seem odd to criticize a show that celebrates the beauty of everyday things by saying this, but the show's biggest weakness is that it seems very, well, ordinary. These are certainly people that we can relate to, and in situations that people regularly find themselves. But it doesn't make for overly compelling theater either, and the quality of the material isn't enough to lift it beyond the commonplace conceit. At only ninety minutes, it wouldn't be fair to say the show feels long or padded, but the overall theme of connection has been done before many times, and to greater effect.
Despite some reservations about the material, Human Race provides a strong production, starting with a very talented cast. Broadway vet and Dayton native Tory Ross (Cry Baby, 9 To 5) typically plays comedic roles, but here proves she's more than capable of playing a different type of roleas Claire, a serious woman who's afraid to give her heart away. Ms. Ross sings with great assurance and delivers many of the show's most tender moments with style, grace and authenticity. As her boyfriend Jason, Jamie Cordes puts his strong legit voice to good use, and captures the multiple layers of his character well. Human Race regular Katie Pees is a comedic hoot as Deb, a critical, hyper-neurotic grad student. Scott Hunt is also regularly seen in Human Race musicals, and he's perfect as Warren, an eager and sentimental dreamer who somehow bonds with Deb.
Director Kevin Moore provides the right tone for the piece, along with fluid blocking and characterizations throughout, and Musical Director Sean Michael Flowers supplies energetic piano accompaniment. Designer Scott J. Kimmins features colorful and festive artwork by Elena Bond to capture the blurry essence of busy Manhattan in his simple yet suitable set design. The lighting by John Rensel and costumes by Laine June Marr are appropriate and attractive.
Ordinary Days is an everyday musical about everyday people and events. Like the people in the show, different people find beauty in different ways, and some audience members may very well find exquisite beauty in this material. However, there is no doubt that the talented cast and effective creative team behind Human Race's production are exemplary in their presentation of the show.
Ordinary Days continues at the Human Race Theatre Company through June 27, 2010. For tickets, call (937) 228-3630.