Through June 22
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda
In the program notes for Round House Theatre’s delightful area premiere of “Ordinary Days,” out composer/lyricist Adam Gwon says the show’s gay character is most like him.
Warren is an optimist. He isn’t terribly put off by rude behavior. For him, a calamity is an opportunity. In jaded Manhattan he might seem an anomaly, yet in Gwon’s charming chamber musical about young people carving out lives for themselves, it’s Warren who embodies the promise and possibilities of Gotham.
“Ordinary Days” is two stories — one about friendship the other love. The first involves nervous Deb (Erin Weaver), a humorless grad student who is unsure what she wants; and Warren (Samuel Edgerly), a happy cat sitter and aspiring artist who canvasses the street handing out flyers with inspiring messages. Two complete strangers. Deb and Warren come together after she loses her thesis notes and he finds them. A hand-over rendezvous is arranged. Warren, ever the romantic, suggests the two meet on Saturday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in front a Monet painting in one of the museum’s myriad galleries. Deb reluctantly agrees. The meeting is amusingly played out in the duet “Sort-of Fairy Tale.”
On parting, uptight Deb feels she owes Warren a thank you. After affirming he’s gay, she suggests a quick 20 minutes at Starbucks, her treat. They sip and chat. Her initial distaste for Warren softens.
That same Saturday, Jason (Will Gartshore) and Claire (Janine Divita) are also at the museum. An afternoon taking in art is part of Jason’s plan to get the couple closer. Though Jason recently moved into Claire’s place, the relationship feels stalled. A painful secret prevents reserved Claire from taking things to the next level.
Almost entirely sung through, Gwon’s 19-song melodic score is filled with the yearning of youth and some more clearheaded thinking prompted by a little maturity. His lyrics are sharp, clever and often funny. Through his songs, Gwon deftly introduces and rounds out complex characters and smartly moves an engaging but hardly groundbreaking plot, which is part of its charm.
Out director Matthew Gardiner’s staging is masterful. Under his sure hand, the perfectly cast, four-person ensemble make it all look so easy, which of course it isn’t. As Jason, Will Gartshore is in gorgeous voice, especially with “Favorite Places,” a sentimental tune in which Jason lists his most prized spots in the city including one he’s yet to visit, Claire’s heart. Janine Divita’s Claire hides her hurt with a hardened veneer. Finally she comes clean with her feelings and reveals the show’s secret with a touching rendition of “I’ll Be Here.”
The eminently watchable Erin Weaver is terrific as Deb, displaying some serious comic and vocal talent with songs like “Don’t Wanna Be Here” and “Calm” (which Deb isn’t). Samuel Edgerly is delightful as the preternaturally sunny and sometimes oblivious Warren. Like his fellow cast members, Edgerly more than does justice to the score. Sole musical accompaniment comes from the excellent musical director/pianist William Yanesh who is seated on stage at a baby grand.
A relatively modest musical, “Ordinary Days” is fun and affecting. Gardiner’s production exudes New York’s energy. There’s the sense of a big city teeming with people in which near misses and accidental meetings can change fates. Misha Kachman’s set is open. A table and chairs, benches and newspaper boxes suggest locations where the characters meet. High above there’s a high balcony from which falls a colorful flurry of inspiring messages.
During his ordinary days as a college student at New York University, Gwon, 34, enjoyed listening to Broadway star Audra McDonald’s first solo album, imagining that one day he would compose for musical theater. Last year McDonald recorded “I’ll Be Here” from “Ordinary Days” on her most recent album, “Go Back Home.”
Gwon’s “Ordinary Days” makes for something special.