The Short North Stage may be small in size, but the talent in the theater for their latest musical is of gigantic proportions. They opened the Columbus premiere of Adam Gwon's musical, "Ordinary Days" last night with the production's creator in the audience, and if that lead to any nervousness, it certainly didn't show.
Gwon humbly attended a talk-back after the show, and proved to be as authentic and genuine as his powerful, extraordinary, "Ordinary Days"- a story about, "four young New Yorkers whose lives intersect as they search for fulfillment, love, and taxis in the rain." The story takes place in various New York locales- a busy sidewalk, an apartment, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, taxi cabs, and a rooftop over looking Union Square, to name a few. The set is simplistic, back dropped by a giant shadowbox of still-lifes, each of which signifies an element in a character's story arc, and pieces are gradually removed to be used as props or discarded as the show "breaks down" the character's emotions and thoughts. The idea, which originated with Director, Pam Hill, was executed beautifully by Patrick Allison, and its simplicity not only adds to the authenticity of the show, but maintains the focus on the characters in the small performance space.
Ms. Hill also gets kudos for tremendously good casting, as the company of this show is one of the most consistently talented ensembles of any local show I've seen. The four characters- Warren, an aspiring gay artist (Zack Steele); Deb, an anxiety-ridden graduate school student (Leslie Goddard); and the hesitant couple, Jason (John Robert Armstrong), and Claire (Jackie Comisar) are so interwoven that finding an exceptional, yet evenly matched performance strength within the four is crucial to the balance of the show, and achieved in perfect form here.
Leslie Goddard's Deb, appears the strongest of the personalities at first, in the snarky, "Don't Wanna Be Here", which Goddard delivers with an amazing voice and just the right blend of sarcasm so as to be hysterically funny and endearing, rather than obnoxious. Just as her character's persona begins to get a bit predictable and tedious, she morphs into softer undertones as her new friendship with Warren emerges- truly masterful acting on Goddard's part. Her counterpart, Warren, played by Wright State University student, Zack Steele, conversely leads off the show with a quieter tone in, "One by One by One", where he laments that no one appears to notice him despite his optimistic pursuit of purpose each day, handing out fliers for his artist boss' work. Steele, though the least veteran member of the cast, does a marvelous job of growing his character from a go-with-the-flow, mild-mannered background persona, into the figure that unifies the four in the end with delicate, gentle interjections.
The show's initial energy comes largely from the seemingly in love couple, Jason and Claire, as Jason begins moving into Claire's apartment in, "The Space Between", while Claire struggles to, "Let Things Go" and allow their lives to truly intertwine. John Robert Armstrong as Jason is flawless; with a stage presence so captivating you can't take your eyes off of him, an incredible voice, and the gift of displaying the most subtle emotion in every inch of his face. Jackie Comisar's Claire, at first seems standoffish, until her story unfolds in the show stopping, emotional, "I'll Be Here". Comisar and Armstrong's harmonies on "Fine" were gorgeous, but Comisar's heart-wrenching rendition of the show's signature song is worth seeing the show twice, in-and-of itself. The cast is truly amazing, and the energy they contribute to each others' characters as they ebb and flow throughout their development during the course of the show is like a finely tuned concert performance, the sum of the parts even more powerful than each exquisite piece.
Ly Apelado as Musical Director was superb, delivering a beautiful score on the piano, but also creating a lovely, poignant production musically, from start to finish. Costumes by Tatjana Longerot were simple, yet understated beauty, much like the show itself, whether it be everyday street clothes, Claire's party dress, or Deb's dress for meeting Warren, the clothing resonated well with the quiet elegance and simplicity of the show's theme.