Sweet, gentle New York story told in 21 songs

"Ordinary Days" stars (from left) Steve Pacek, Michael Philip O'Brien, Whitney Bashor, and Alex Keiper.
"Ordinary Days" stars (from left) Steve Pacek, Michael Philip O'Brien, Whitney Bashor, and Alex Keiper. (JOHN FLAK)
Posted: December 01, 2011

Adam Gwon's chamber musical Ordinary Days benefits greatly from 11th Hour Theatre Company's signature charm. Joe Calarco, a director imported for the occasion of this Philadelphia premiere, uses the limited space of the Adrienne's Skybox to create an intimacy perfectly suited to this sweet and gentle show.

The musical is sung through (that is, the narrative is conveyed entirely through song), and Eric Ebbenga accompanies the four good voices. Gwon's lyrics are more interesting and entertaining than his melodies, but we get a generous 21 numbers; outstanding among them are the lovely "Calm" and "Sort-of Fairy Tale."

The plot of Ordinary Days is the New York story, a story that has been told about three million four hundred and eighty-two times in movies and on television, as well as onstage (everybody wishes she'd written Stephen Sondheim's Company). Four young people meet (or almost meet) cute. We watch them cope with cramped apartments and cabdrivers, see them look at paintings in the Met, hear them bicker about wine and order coffee at Starbucks (the mocha soy latte blah blah blah routine), and fall in and out of love. Oddly, nobody seems to have a real job that defines him or her in any way.

The plot follows Jason (the excellent Michael Philip O'Brien) and Claire (Whitney Bashor), who decide to share an apartment and then lose some of their happiness as their love affair cools. Intersecting their story is the friendship between Deb (Alex Keiper), a graduate student, whose lost notebook is found by Warren (the irresistible Steve Pacek).

The thread linking their stories is the refrain of "the big picture" - each character's longings and goals - as well as a variety of paintings at the Met (I think Gwon also wishes he'd written Sunday in the Park With George), and it's here that you feel the unused potential of the script. Fortune-cookie art leaflets raining down happiness on New York streets seems flimsy and cloying.

Gwon's version of the New York story is unusual in that the two men are the softies, the romantics, generous of spirit, and open to experience, while the two women are, in different ways, brittle, grim, and graceless, driven to rudeness by the New Yorkness of it all - too many people, too-tall buildings, too much muchness. The actors' voices match this division: Pacek's and O'Brien's are strong and mellow voices, while Bashor's has that nasal shrillness cultivated by Broadway, and Keiper's is more quirky than melodic, as are her songs, most of them funny.

Ordinary Days provides a sentimental, entirely predictable, but altogether pleasant evening in the theater.

Follow Toby Zinman at #philastage on Twitter. Read her reviews at www.phillystage.com.

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