Theatre review: Ordinary Days features some terrific performances

Sadly there is no irony here; as musicals go Ordinary Days is, well, pretty ordinary.  But thanks to some terrific performances it becomes less about its story and more of about the talent.

A chamber musical featuring a quartet of actors and a pianist, Adam Gwon’s 2008 penned show is all about the ordinary lives of four young New Yorkers, but it is in the mundane nature of its conflicts that makes the show’s biggest weakness.  Jason and Claire (Shane Snow & Alison MacDonald) fight as much about what wine to bring to dinner as they do about their relationship and the neurotic Claire (Jennie Neumann) becomes a caricature of the love/hate relationship many New Yorkers have with their city.  The only brighter spot here is in the quirky Warren (Steven Greenfield), but his epiphany comes way too late.

Making things even tougher is the recitative nature of the majority of Gwon’s songs resulting in an odd distancing affect that made any real emotional engagement, already challenging by the relatively mundane conflicts, that much more difficult.  With many songs without melody, accessing them is made difficult as we are forced to attune ourselves, much like watching a Shakespearean play, to their foreign nature.

Helping to overcome the story though are some terrific performances from the majority of this cast.  Jennie Neumann is simply superb as grad student Claire with a voice to match her impeccable comedic timing.  Steven Greenfield is as bright as the clothes Warren wears and nails “Sort-Of Fairy Tale”, one of Gwon’s few melodic songs.  As the rather generic couple, MacDonald has an easier time than does Snow, who seemed to struggle with much of the music, especially in the higher registers.

Steven Greenfield and Jennie Neumann in the Relephant Theatre production of Ordinary Days. Photo by Jessie van Rijn.
Steven Greenfield and Jennie Neumann in the Relephant Theatre production of Ordinary Days. Photo by Jessie van Rijn.

A lean production team sees Julie MacIsaac as stage and musical director (sharing the latter duties with Greenfield) and the show’s accompanist.  Using the tiny Carousel Theatre Studio to great effect, MacIsaac attempts to bring a real intimacy to the play, but even being up-close-and-personal isn’t enough to make the material more compelling.  Thankfully there is enough talent on stage to make it worthwhile and at only 80 minutes I was more than willing to forgive Ordinary Days slight story for the opportunity to see those performances.

3 Out of 5 Stars Ordinary Days

Music and lyrics by Adam Gwon.  Directed by Julie MacIsaac.  Musical direction by Julie MacIsaac and Steven Greenfield.  A Relephant Theatre production.  On stage at the Carousel Theatre Studio until January 19, 2013.  Visit http://relephanttheatre.ca for tickets and information.

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