In a game of Word Association, when asked to describe New York, ordinary is probably the last word to spring to mind. Although this musical is firmly grounded in the bustling city which never sleeps, the material which the musical centres on is, well, ordinary. Here we follow four New Yorkers: a romantic couple; a grad student; and an artist and the everyday circumstances that they find themselves in.
I can’t help but draw a comparison with the comedian Michael McIntyre (if you’ll indulge me for a moment). Just as McIntyre finds original humour through familiar observations in the most mundane of circumstances so too does this piece seek to create theatre out of that which is commonplace. It is true that some of the jokes such as getting lost in the labyrinth that is the Met Museum may land better with New York audiences compared to UK ones. However, its allurement comes down to the fact that the themes explored in its songs and its dialogue are fairly recognisable.
We feel a tinge of sympathy for Claire (Betty Jones) as she finds herself tidying up after her partner Jason (Jeremy Sartori), who has recently moved in. We cringe as Deb (Charlotte George) drafts an e-mail which she’d rather not have to send. Or it pains us to see when the typically upbeat Warren (Anthony Rickman) starts to question what his place in the grand scheme of life is.
This piece joins a long list of musicals which are set in the Big Apple: Company; Thoroughly Modern Millie; and Rent to name a few. In each of these shows, the creators zoom into a section of society and paint a rich and vivid image of the city and its players.
By contrast, the approach here is much more subtle. With charming music and lyrics by Adam Gwon, we learn indirectly about New York through the relationship that our quartet of characters have with her. In ‘Hundred-Story City’, Jason sings of his confusion whereby “you’re always moving fast but going nowhere”. The cynic Deb on the other hand initially struggles to find calm in a city which frustrates her. However, once she’s had a fleeting taste of life in a provincial hamlet in Jersey, she realises that being tucked away in her very small corner of NYC is where she’d prefer to be.
The production has been affectionately directed by Andy Patterson and Emma Harvey. In keeping with the minimal feel of the show, there are no clunky set pieces. Rather, the various locations are created out of these coloured blocks which the actors dynamically move around at times. The set remains admirably faithful to a marshmallow pink/baby blue colour theme, such as one that you’d typically find on a teenage Pinterest Board.
This musical may not have much bite for all. Yes, it’s true that some of the issues our New Yorkers face are of a ‘First World’ nature, e.g. heightened disagreements over whether to bring red or white wine to dinner. But, if you accept it for what it is, it’s a clean, simple and beautifully delivered musical.
Ordinary Days The Musical is running at the Cockpit until 21 September at the time of writing.
Photo Credit: Joao Almeida