“Ordinary” is perhaps the most apt descriptor for Stage Door Theatre’s new production of Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days, a musical that seeks to find the beautiful in the seemingly everyday connections that we make. This production, helmed by Keena Redding, finds ample opportunity to lean into that ordinariness in ways that are sweet and surprisingly deep. At times, though, Redding’s staging struggles to find the balance between quotidian and flat.
Ordinary Days examines the lives of four average New Yorkers. There is Warren, a socially awkward but enthusiastic try-hard whose desire to make a difference is stymied by his general lack of skills; Deb, a perennially dissatisfied grad student from small town America; Claire, a woman struggling to move on from a past heartbreak; and Jason, Claire’s kind-hearted and eager boyfriend. In examining how their lives intersect, Gwon seeks to explore what value is to be found in the potential connections that we may initially dismiss. Stage Door has taken perhaps too literal an approach to this idea. Much like an everyday encounter with a stranger, this production gets off to a bit of a rocky start before the day-to-day whimsy of Gwon’s script takes over.
The show begins with four back-to-back solos that introduce each of the characters. However, there is a noticeable timidity in the staging and performances of these songs. For example, Jared Brodie utilizes awkwardly small gestures as Warren in the opening number “One by One by One,” while Jason-actor Shane Murphy’s half-dance routine in “The Space Between” comes off as an ill-fitting, half-hearted attempt to fill the space of the song.
Most of these opening songs are plagued by energy and spacing issues as the actors seem uncomfortable taking up so much space by themselves, making even the livelier moments feel small and stifled. One of the only early exceptions is “Dear Professor Thompson,” Deb’s impassioned plea to her thesis advisor, which takes place in a much smaller environment, therefore eliminating the need for the action to fill up the entire stage.
Things start to pick up, however, as the actors start interacting with and playing off of one another, reminding us that, at its heart, Ordinary Days is a musical about human connection.
Anna Holland is a strong presence as Deb, in both demeanor and vocal quality. Her instrument has only one setting: belt. However, she manages to find the grooves and nuances of her character’s neurosis, and her energy makes hers the show’s most attention-grabbing performance.
Suzanne Stroup is softer in her approach to the closet widow Claire. She gets a few good laughs during the song “Let Things Go,” in which she voices her anxieties over having Jason move in, but her standout moment is the more melancholic “I’ll Be Here,” in which she recounts the story of her courtship, marriage, and widowing. If there is a breakout song from Ordinary Days, it’s this one, and Stroup hits just the right notes to give the audience that juicy catharsis.
Despite coming on a little strong in his first number, Shane Murphy quickly brings an endearing and heartfelt energy to Jason. I might also crown him the strongest vocalist in the show, as his voice hits the strongest balance between power and flexibility.
There is a slight hesitancy to Brodie’s performance, but he settles in as the show goes on. He hits his peak with “Sort of Fairy Tale,” where his eagerness clashes pretty adorably with Holland’s incredulity.
The design is fairly straightforward. The set design (a collaboration between the Stage Door staff and crew) creates a nice versatile space that, while largely underutilized in the early numbers, helps amplify many of the later songs. There is often little to be done costume-wise with contemporary musicals like this one, but costume designer Julia Barton manages to pull together a couple of eye-catching ensembles that are complemented by a roster of simple but effective pieces.
At the end of the day, Ordinary Days is a show that commands simplicity. It needs very few frills or ornamentation. It also encourages us to embrace the flaws and imperfections that we may view as deficiencies, so perhaps if you find yourself affected by the strengths of this production, you may be implored to forgive its flaws. Stage Door may hit some early stumbles, but the final product rings with enough emotional truth to leave the audience smiling and contemplating the simple beauties in their own lives.