The latest collaboration by composer lyricist Albert M. Tapper and bookwriter Tony Sportiello, On the Right Track, proves to be a charming chamber musical for three performers playing seven roles. The show combines realism with magic and the supernatural as it tells three stories which take place on a New Jersey Transit train. The Conductor, the narrator, also is a mystical figure who is able to give the characters second chances in life and lea them to a better place than when they came on board. Owing some inspiration to such classics as Sir James M. Barrie’s Dear Brutus, Sutton Vane’s Outward Bound and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, On the Right Track avoids being preachy at the same time that it offers suggestions about how to live one’s life.
Dana Aber and Cody Gerszewski demonstrate their versatility playing three very different couples who board the train. In the first story, the long married Larry and Kim, dressed in formalwear, arrive after a dinner in which he received a Humanitarian Award for Advances in Science. While he should be on top of the world, he is extremely nervous, obviously with something on his mind. It turns out that he wants his wife’s permission to have an affair with his secretary. However, his wife is just as bored as he is after eight years of marriage and she is should as happy to be free. Just when it appears that their marriage is over, the Conductor steps in and allows them a do-over of their conversation on the train that led up to their break-up.
David L. Murray Jr. as the Conductor is a genial host and narrator, as well as a magical being. He brings his resonant baritone to his period songs. Gerszwski is amusing as the somewhat absent minded scientist while Aber is witty as well as sarcastic as the suburban matron. Costume designer Debbi Hobson has provided elegant evening clothes, putting Aber in a chic off the shoulder red gown.
In the second story, Karen and Jake are business partners with their own firm as political spin doctors. Karen informs Jake that they have been asked to take on a candidate for the House of Representatives who has a fabulous résumé: a medical degree from Harvard University, service in Afghanistan where he was awarded the Purple Heart, work in the Peace Corps in Africa, – and he is the son of a Democratic Senatorial icon. The only problem it that except for his famous father none of the items on his personal résumé are true and the candidate is a pathological liar. Karen and Jake’s job would be to turn his disadvantages into positives. While Jake is all for taking on the lucrative assignment, Karen has had enough and says she is through. At this point the Conductor steps in and turns back the clock so that they can work out their differences, and put themselves back on the right road.
Aber and Gerszewski are quite different here, sophisticated, knowledgeable, and entitled. Again the plot revolves around ethical ambiguity and moral dubiousness. Here the costume designer has put Aber in a pink pants suit and Gerszewski in a complementary sporty blue leisure suit, again matching the red seats of the train car in Josh Iacovelli’s realistic unit set. The plot has a great deal of resonance and topicality for today’s politics, particularly with one recent New York member of the House of Representatives.
The last story has two people who have never met before. Marie Woodward is one of the country’s top movers and shakers in the financial world. Returning from a dinner with the man at the top, she feels she has everything she wants: great condo, fancy car, a house in the Hamptons, an enviable portfolio. But as a workaholic, she has no one to share life with but thinks she is not missing the companionship. She meets Terry who eerily seems to know too much about her and who warns her that at the rate she is going she will end up entirely alone, unlike her beloved brother, economically uncertain but who has a loving wife and two beautiful children. Marie has to confront some hard truths about her path in life before she gets off the train.
In this segment, Aber is hard-edged and worldly, seeming to have all the answers. Gerzewski, dressed in jeans, sneakers, knit white shirt, and a knit cap, seems to be much younger than in the previous two episodes but he is equally self-assured and confident. Here the Conductor doesn’t intervene but seems to know Terry which explains a great deal. Staged by famed Mexican director Mauricio Cedeño, the show has a nice breezy style that remains consistent throughout the three stories.
The bouncy score by Tapper includes clever lyrics and catchy melodies. Among them are Karen and Jake’s description of their work (“The Spin”), the hilarious ode to bad boy politicians (“Keep Your Penis in Your Pants”),” Karen and Jake’s ode to each other (“The Enabler”), Terry’s ode to a colleague (“I’m Delighted to Say”) and Marie’s tribute to her brother (“What Makes a Hero a Hero”). Murray also has three memorable songs: “The Conductor Song,” “Albert Einstein Had a Theory” and “Results Are Still the Same.” Sportiello’s dialogue is made up of bright and lively repartee which constantly takes us by surprise. On the Right Track, a small feel-good musical, is much more diverting than many of the big musicals on the main stem.
On the Right Track (through May 11, 2023)
AMT Theater, 354 W. 45th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 917-388-2630 or visit http://www.amttheater.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission