Addison — When you’ve been seeing lots of theater in North Texas for about a decade and a half it’s easy to read new plays or listen to new cast recordings and instantly know which local producers and directors will be the first to snatch them up—provided there were no restrictions with those pesky rights issues.
I had not listened to the original cast recording of Adam Gwon’s musical Ordinary Days before Our Productions Theatre Company announced it would be serving its area premiere, but once I did, the team was clear as day. Even if I had heard it before the announcement, my immediate choice would have been the team of director Stephanie Riggs and musical director Mark Mullino.
Now, to be clear, they are both versatile and love all things musical theater, but this intimate through-sung work, its musical soliloquys brimming with emotion and introspection, is a perfect fit for them. Written with only a piano score, the music is melodic, thoughtful and lively. (Even though you can't see Mullino backstage in this production, it's easy to visualize him having a ball on the 88's.)
Our Productions was a reformation of Flower Mound Performing Arts Theater, which was run for many years by the husband-wife team of Scott Kirkham and Stephanie Riggs, and had several spaces in Flower Mound. Our Productions still has an arm that performs at the MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville; but its new Dallas branch, with productions at the Studio Theatre at the Addison Theatre Centre, is labeled as professional. FMPAT once had an Actor’s Equity designation of Small Professional Theatre; here’s hoping OPTC revisits that (although its next production, a remounting of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, will be an Equity production.)
Paying actors and artists respectable wages is something this area needs more of.
Ordinary Days features a small cast, similar to Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s wonderful Edges and the monumental song cycle that everyone who loves these kinds of musicals worships: Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World. But whereas the latter speaks of much bigger themes, Ordinary is more narrative-driven and internal.
Warren (Matthew Silar) is an unfocused gay twentysomething who finds a book with lots of notes, which was lost by grad student Deb (Juliette Talley), who moved to New York City from cul-de-sac America. There’s contact info in the book, and soon Warren and Deb meet at the Metropolitan Museum so she can get her work back.
Then there’s Jason (David Price) and Claire (Sarah Elizabeth Smith), lovers who have recently moved in together. That’s gonna cause some friction. Plus, he loves the Old Masters and she’s more into modern art. Uh oh.
Their storylines—individually and as pairs—overlap through the story-songs, a number of which are marvelously crafted tunes, especially “Favorite Places,” “Hundred-Story City” and “I’ll Be Here.” Gwon shows a gift for lyrics and rhyme scheme.
Check this segment from Deb’s song “Don’t Wanna Be Here”:
In four long years / I finished up with high school
Graduated top of my class
But in college I discovered that
Devising my own major / was a bureaucratic pain in the ass
I thought I'd recontextualize Satre
But could only register for first-year French
Well you should've heard my mom
When I dropped Le Bomb…
[Below is the entire song from the original cast recording, which is available from Ghostlight Records, and can be downloaded on on iTunes. Kate Wetherhead sings it; Dallas audiences might remember her as Sally Bowles in Dallas Theater Center’s fabulous Cabaret in 2011. Technical note: You might have to turn down the volume on your computer.]
Along with their personal narratives, the songs are about finding beauty in simplicity, dreams that might not have worked out as expected and that eternal quest for happiness. And of course there’s a device that connects all four characters. If at times it feels a bit too precious, it never crosses the line into something that’s emotionally manipulative. (At the performance I attended, several audience members were audibly crying and sniffling during the last few songs.)
Talley and Smith each won a 2014 DFW Theater Critics Forum award (Talley for Dogfight at WaterTower Theatre and Smith for The Boy From Oz at Uptown Players), and they’re both marvelous here. Talley finds the neuroses without making it a quirk-fest. Silar does good work in the least interesting role; but the star is Price, with a mellifluous, precise vocal performance and characterization of a man who’s too willing to give up—until it becomes clear that he shouldn’t, as if a sign from the sky.
Under Mullino’s musical direction it is beautifully sung, and Riggs is a natural with these intimate shows and spaces. Kirkham’s scenic design, with projections of text and specific places, rounds out the excellence. With the final visual feat, this show is a stage manager’s nightmare, but hey, that’s art. Often, someone else has to clean it up.
There’s one more weekend of performances, and if you like musicals in which every song doesn’t end with the actors doing the arms-up Y of the “Y.M.C.A.” movements, you’ll appreciate this one.