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Ordinary Days

Revival of the cult musical by Adam Gwon about four not-so-ordinary New Yorkers gets an Off Broadway revival by Keen Company.

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Kyle Sherman and Sarah Lynn Marion in a scene from Adam Gwon’s “Ordinary Days” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]Adam Gwon’s song cycle, Ordinary Days, became a cult hit when it opened the Roundabout’s Black Box Theatre in 2009 for a run of ten weeks. So successful was the show that it is one of the few Off Broadway musicals of its era to have an original cast album. As so few people were able to see the show, there has been a need for a major revival which Keen Company is now presenting at The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row. While creating a show about commonplace moments offers its own problems, director Jonathan Silverstein’s choices have created new ones.

Ordinary Days follows four, adrift young New Yorkers as they go about the city on various errands: Warren, who is cat-sitting for a famous artist incarcerated for graffiti, goes around the city on his own art project: giving out pithy slogans on colored paper. Deb, a grad student writing on Virginia Woolf – who she doesn’t even like – has lost her notebook with all of her research and is frantically trying to do something about it.

Whitney Bashor and Marc delaCruz in a scene from Adam Gwon’s “Ordinary Days” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Jason is moving in with his girlfriend Claire which will save him the daily 14 block walk to her apartment, but she is unable to “let go of things” because she has an unresolved secret she hasn’t told Jason. In a city of eight million, these four people keep passing each other but almost never meet except when they are all at the Metropolitan Museum of Art one Saturday afternoon where Warren is to meet Deb to give back her notebook and Jason has taken Claire as an eleventh thing to do (his own suggestion) from a magazine list they have kept.

Gwon’s four characters, two in their twenties and two in their thirties, are very lightly drawn so it is up to the actor/singers to make them three dimensional as we are told nothing about them except that Deb is writing a dissertation and that Warren earns his living house-sitting. Unfortunately, Silverman’s cast makes them superficial and immature rather than deep or confused. Kyle Sherman’s cheerful Warren who has not found his “Big Picture” yet seems unnecessarily hopeful even though he has no direction. As Deb, Sarah Lynn Marion is one–note, cynical, pessimistic and choleric without any irony which would redeem her character. Jason seems to live only for Claire, while she seems to be on the verge of a breakdown or a breakup.

Sarah Lynn Marion and Kyle Sherman in a scene from Adam Gwon’s “Ordinary Days” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Gwon’s lyrics use a metric pattern all his own, with rhymes usually appearing only in the middle of the verses. Like Sondheim’s songs, Gwon’s create little solo one act plays so it is incumbent on the singers to present them like developing narratives. Under the music direction of John Bell and the stage direction by Silverstein, this the singers fail to do. The most famous song in the show “I’ll Be Here” (which has been a show stopper for Audra McDonald) is thrown away in this revival by Bashor who fails to build up to the necessary emotion. Some of the duets used as counterpoint are a little more successful such as: Deb’s “Dear Professor Thompson” and Warren’s “Life Story,” and Jason and Claire’s “Fine,” as well as “Big Picture” and “Rooftop Duet/Falling” sung by all four. DelaCruz sells “Hundred Story City,” which demonstrates Gwon’s heavily influenced by Sondheim but in his own unique way. Bruce Coughin’s dissonant new orchestrations get in the way of songs that cry out for a more melodic sound.

Steven Kemp’s bland settings are made up of platforms and blank canvas screens intended to represent New York’s skyscrapers. These walls are often lit by Anshuman Bhatia in various pairs of colors which should have added atmosphere but like the strips of lighting seen from behind the screens prove to be only distracting. There is one extraordinary scenic moment, however, when Warren and Deb hurling various colored papers from a rooftop, while Jason and Claire many floors below attempt to catch them, creates a riot of light and color. Unfortunately, nothing else in the show rivals this coup de théâtre. Jennifer Paar’s blah costumes do not define the characters very well except for putting Warren in primary colors – like the papers he gives out.

Whitney Bashor and Kyle Sherman in a scene from Adam Gwon’s “Ordinary Days” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Although Ordinary Days wants us to believe that these are extraordinary people living through ordinary but memorable days, Jonathan Silverstein’s production for Keen Company fails to deliver on that premise. His cast sings well but this sophisticated sung-through musical needs more than just good voices. Unfortunately, this highly awaited revival of the charming Adam Gwon musical is low on the charm factor, a disappointment leaving us to wait for a definitive production sometime in the future.

Ordinary Days (through November 17, 2018)

Keen Company

The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-947-8844 or visit

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (989 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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