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A CurtainUp Review
In Transit
Deep beneath the city
With a thousand other strangers
Packed like driven cattle
Speeding through a maze
Rattling and lurching
In an unknown state of motion
A muffled speaker tells us to expect delays

— sung by all in the prologue.
(Clockwise from left) Tommar Wilson, Graham Stevens, Celisse Henderson, Chesney Snow, Hannah Laird, Steve French, and Denise Summerford (seated)
(Photo: James Leynse)
Three sailors on leave in New York City take a ride in the crowded subway and see a poster of Miss Turnstile in the Betty Comden-Adolph Green 1944 Broadway musical On The Town. They spend the rest of the day helping their love-smitten shipmate Gabe to find her. The famous writing team went underground again in 1961 adapting Subways Are for Sleeping, about well-dressed people living in the subway. In the more recent musical Happiness, we followed the lives of a dozen or so New Yorkers stuck in a stalled subway car. You can see that the subway has previously served as a welcoming place for us to observe the lives, hopes and dreams of an ever converging humanity.

In Transit, an original concept by Gregory T. Christopher & Karla Lant, quickly involves us with a group of rather ordinary, let's say unexceptional, men and women. That they all become increasingly endearing as they go about their various pursuits is the strength and the delight of In Transit. But what makes it exceptional is the musical concept/conceit that drives the action: A Cappella, or group singing without instrumental backup.

  The composers — Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth — have created a patchwork of complex harmonics, melodies and riffs that define the show's various characters. The score also resounds admirably with the pulse and the sounds of the city.

Director Joe Calarco, who has been connected with the show since its reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, keeps the company moving gingerly both in the subway and in their occasional forays above ground. Set designer Anna Louizos has created a commendably detailed depiction of a subway station complete with the yellow non-slip strip on the edge of the platform. The crackling, often incomprehensible public address system gets laughs as does "attitude" from a bitchy booth lady (Celisse Henderson, who also plays several other roles). There's an on-going conflict between her and Nate (Graham Stevens,) a young man laid off from his job in finance by the current recession who may never get to an important job interview because his metro card has been eaten up by a faulty machine.

  As the booth lady is the comic meanie of the show so Chessney Show is the rhythmic, and sound effects-making centerpiece and amusingly serves the bridge to the other characters. Show is terrific as the amusing "street savvy boxman," or as he lyrically describes himself "It's Box for Boom Man, It's Box for Beat Man, It's Box for open, receptive and yet complete, Man." His virtuosic rap arias are integrated with some specifically non-human sounds, providing a generous helping of vocal support.

The Boxman is particularly supportive of Jane (Denise Summerford) the young aspiring actress with a temp job who is off to an audition and in whom he takes a friendly interest and also helps Nate get through the turnstile. But don't expect Jane to turn into an overnight star or Nate to nail a great new job with a corner office. This being a musical, what you can expect is for Jane and Nate to add a touch of romance to the plot.

  Trent (Tommar Wilson) and Ali (Hannah Laird) are also prominent among the thirty-eight characters who traverse this lyrically-enhanced realm with big problems. Trent is a young gay black man who is worried about a visit to his religious mother in Texas (Celisse Henderson again). Ali recently broke up with her boyfriend and is destined (maybe) to spend all her Saturday nights alone. This is a musical that determinedly wants us to feel and share the anxieties and the stress of easily recognizable types in transit. If there is a purposefully prescribed triteness to the overly familiar situations these people are facing, we are nevertheless inclined to be empathetic to the strengths and the sensibilities they reveal as resident New Yorkers.

All the performers are impressive as soloists as they are as backup singers for each other. Particularly impressive in background is the rich bass voice of Steve French. If I find it difficult to single out specific songs, it is, nevertheless, easy to appreciate a musical in which the lyrics offer a multi-layered portrait of life in Manhattan. We don't often get to enjoy the purity of the a cappella musical, but this is one that winningly asserts itself with its lyrical and harmonic charms. Think of Avenue Q without the puppets.

  Editor's Note: Anyone who isn't a regular subway rider please note, that the transit authorities have spent a lot of money not just upgrading the tracks and other aspects of the system but also making the stations brighter and more attractive. And so, while there are still plenty of those green tiled and rather dingy looking stations seen here, there are an increasing number of handsomely re-tiled stations, many with colorful images as part of the bright white walls. Naturally, all those improvements come at a price. You can't do track work during rush hours, but weekends do bring plenty of announcements about trains not running or going only local. Of course, some things never change and Jane's reference Dr. Zizmore understandably brought guffawss from subway regulars. The good doctor indeed continues to promise dermatologicl bliss to acne and pimple sufferers as he has for years for years-- apparently with enough success to keep running those poster ads and find time for regular nips and tucks to maintain his own wrinkle as well as zit-free complexion. And the 59E59 theater is easily reachable by the #4, 5, 6, N, R and Q trains.--E.S.

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In Transit
Book, Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen ford, russ Kaplan, Sara Wordsworth.
Direction and Musical Staging by Joe Calarco
Musical Direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Cast: Steve French (bass- Chris/Steven/ Dave/Coffee Guy), Celisse Henderson (alto- Momma/Booth Lady/Ms. Williams), Hannah Laird (soprano-/Ali/Nanny), Chesney Show (Boxman), Graham Stevens (Baritone/Nate), Denise Summerford (Mezzo-Jane/Kathy), Tommar Wilson (Tenor-Trent/Hunter/Train Conductor)
Set Design: Anna Louizos
Costume Design: Jennifer Caprio
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: John Weston
Stage Manager: Andrew Neal
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission (plus a curtain call number)
Primary Stages at 59E59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street
Performances: Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays & Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. on October 3rd & 10th and a Wednesday matinee at 2:00 p.m.
From 9/21/10; opening 10/05/10; closing 10/30/10
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/01/10

Not There Yet/ Company
No Dental/ Jane
Four Days Home /Trent
Maxed Out /Nate
Saturday Night Obsession/ Ali
Wingman/ Chris
But, Ya Know /Nate and Jane
Keep It Goin' /Company
The Moving Song /Ali
Choosing Not to Know /Trent
Getting There /Jane/Company
Finale/ Company

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