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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Ordinary Days

One by one by one, I get ignored. — Warren
Those first staccato plinks on the keyboard evoke Steven Sondheim, but our first character, a dreamer named Warren dressed in fire engine red pants, wouldn't be out of place on Avenue A among Jonathan Larson's Renters. And once the lonely New Yorkers of Adam Gwon's Ordinary Days start singing, our Jason Robert Brown bells should be on four-alarm status.

Ordinary Days, however, feels like Brown-lite. Nothing about the piece's West Coast premiere at South Coast Repertory suggests that the composer has a Parade in him. Not that director Ethan McSweeny and his quartet of actors aren't hammering away at this anything-but-breezy tale, trying perhaps to up the material's importance quotient. There's a hard, exclamation point-like feel to the production, particularly whenever anybody has to bring home a keen or a ballad. That's both good and bad news for actors Deborah S. Craig, Nancy Anderson, David Burnham and Nick Gabriel whose characters do have names but are better defined as, respectively, Type A Neurotic, Commitmentphobe, Lovelorn and Dreamer.

With the possible exception of Anderson's Claire, none of our quartet are in the least bit retiring. Good thing too, since each of these characters would likely wear out his/her welcome were Ordinary Days to stretch past its 80 minute length.

New York, as you might have heard before, is a rather unwieldy beast, given to consuming or otherwise overwhelming its inhabitants. So it goes for Deb (Craig), a graduate student from the suburbs who has just lost the notes to her thesis on Virginia Woolf; Warren (Gabriel) who house sits for a trust fund artist and hands out affirmation leaflets, and Jason (Burnham) who lives only to build a life with his girlfriend of a year, Claire. Claire, possibly the only native among the trio, has let Jason move in to her apartment, but bristles and flees at any attempts on his part — romantic or otherwise — to get closer We'll eventually learn why via a rather heartbreaking song titled "I'll be Here."

Other intersections happen. Warren has found Deb's notes, and arranges a meeting at the Met to return them. Basically, he has fallen in best friend love with Deb based on her note-taking and figures he'll kick off that said friendship in front of a strategic Met Monet. Deb, who is all pragmatism and correctly thinks Warren is a lunatic, just wants her book back. Except that Warren dreaminess starts to grow on her. Claire and Jason, who are at the Met that same day, proceed to take a Time Out, 10 Places to see in New York tour of the city.

NYC, as you might have surmised, plays a rather prominent role in these proceedings. Without the aid of Jason H. Thompson's projections, Fred Kinney's tri level scenery might feel more like an unfinished construction site. Height is also critical; all the better to cascade a shower of Warren's affirmation leaflets at the play's finale.

Burnham (a recent Fiyero in Wicked and part of a Cy Coleman cyle in Ventura) will fast cement himself as one of musical theater's leading men. He's got the boyishness, the good looks, the powerful baritone and the sex appeal in spades. Anderson's a good, lower key match. Ordinary Days gives her a couple of "I'm going nuts" breakout songs, and the actress infuses them with a sweet blend of comedy and smartness.

Over the top comes easy both to Craig (whose Deb feels like an extension of her Marcy Park in Spelling Bee) and to Gabriel who is saddled with the burden of drilling home the play's mantra: find the beauty in ordinary things. That's kind of a soggy little bromide for a play that feels like it wants to aim deeper, but the regional and community theater circuit should take to it just fine, exclamation points or no.

Ordinary Days
By Adam Gwon
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
Musical Direction: Dennis Castellano
Cast: Nick Gabriel (Warren), Deborah S. Craig (Deb), David Burnham (Jason), Nancy Anderson (Claire)
Stage Manager: Kathryn Davies
Set Design: Fred Kinney
Costume Design: Angela Balogh Calin
Lighting Design: Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz
Sound Design: Kimberly Egan
Projection Design: Jason H. Thompson
Running Time: 1 hours and 20 minutes with no intermission
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa (714) 708-5555,
From January 3 to 24, 2010
Tue-Sat. @ 7:45pm, Sat.-Sun @ 2 pm.,
Reviewed by Evan Henerson, based on Jan. 12 performance.

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