At first glance, Adam Gwon’s debut musical, ‘Ordinary Days,’ is about exactly what is described in the title — a series of day-to-day interactions between a cast of seemingly normal characters. Deb (Anna Phillips-Brown) is an overworked and overstressed student working on a graduate dissertation when her life is suddenly turned upside-down after she loses her notes somewhere in New York City. Warren (Carl Williams) is an aspiring artist with some hippie-like tendencies who has dedicated his life to proselytizing on the streets of Manhattan about the work of a graffiti artist whom he admires. And Jason (Bobby Libby) and Claire (Sarah Anne Sillers) are a couple who, despite recently moving in with one another, seem to have different perspectives on what their future together holds.
But underneath each person’s surface lays a complex set of beliefs and experiences, ultimately creating a narrative not about how this particular group of New Yorkers is particularly special, but about how every stranger we encounter on the streets has their own past that motivates how they move through this world.
You will come away from the experience with a newfound love for Adam Gwon’s music — and a newfound appreciation for the lives and experiences of the people around you.
NextStop Theatre Company’s production, directed by Jay D. Brock, does an excellent job of sending this message, thanks to the cast of four very talented actors. As a simple show with no real need for excessive technical design, “Ordinary Days” requires its actors be fully in tune with their characters. This is the only way to keep the show emotionally and narratively compelling as it cycles between long bouts of solos and duets and only occasional full-cast numbers.
NextStop’s cast pulls this off well. Williams portrayed Warren’s exuberance for life and anxiety about uncovering its meaning felt deeply genuine, while Phillips-Brown’s Deb skillfully balanced the comedy of her character with the terrifying uncertainty of young adulthood. Jason is arguably the show’s least developed character, but Libby managed to lean into his sentimental sensibilities without allowing him to come across as one-dimensional.
Perhaps most impressive, though, was Sillers’s performance as Claire. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that Sillers expertly built towards her character’s big emotional reveal, sowing the seeds of Claire’s hidden grief from the beginning. Even from her first song, the seemingly-lighthearted “Let Things Go,” Siller captured my attention both with her voice — a clear mezzo-soprano, in the vein of Laura Osnes, but with a slightly folksy quality — and the intensity and honesty of her performance. Though all of the actors drew me into the same extent over the course of the show, she achieved it within moments of stepping onstage.
Thanks, both to Sillers’s performance and to Libby’s, this production of “Ordinary Days” managed to do something quite impressive: It made me care more about Jason and Claire’s dynamic than Warren and Deb’s. The inverse seems the natural choice; whereas the former narrative is a retelling of a romance that has been told since the advent of romances, the latter is chicer and more modern, featuring characters who feel more unique. Still, Sillers and Libby’s chemistry, which culminated in cheery duets about exploring the city of New York (“I’m Trying), as well as heart-wrenching moments of disjuncture and confusion (part of “Saturday at the Met”), put it over the top. (Of course, Phillips-Brown and Williams had a trickier job in this department, as, at the top of the show, their characters had never met, whereas Jason and Claire are many months into their relationship with one another.)
Vocally, Sillers was not the only impressive voice in the cast, of course; all four cast members deserve praise not only for managing to hit every note in Gwon’s very high and very fast score. Additionally, the very few moments in the show where all four singers come together in harmony (the ends of “Big Picture,” “Hundred Story City,” and “Rooftop Duet/Falling”) were stunning — I like to think I have a fairly discerning ear, and I did not notice a note out of place in any of those spots. Kudos to both the cast and music director Elisa Rosman. Rosman was also the show’s pianist, an impressive feat in a show like ‘Ordinary Days’ in which there are no breaks for dialogue.
Though this show calls for little scenery, scenic designer JD Madsen nonetheless made the most of the small black box theatre, adorning it with various levels of ledges for sitting and standing upon and three street signs that help give the stage depth. At the back of the stage sat three small projections that switched each scene to images that either literally illustrated where the scene took place or helped to set the scene’s general tone.
One element of the set that I felt was much less effective was the series of four tables set around the stage’s perimeter. Though there are certainly moments that demand that the actors be seated, having a scene take place all the way stage right or left with the entire rest of the stage empty felt awkward. This happened during only a small number of scenes, however, and, for the most part, the production was quite visually appealing.
Though you may have never heard of “Ordinary Days,” seeing it is worth a trip to NextStop Theatre Company. You will come away from the experience with a newfound love for Adam Gwon’s music — and a newfound appreciation for the lives and experiences of the people around you.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Contains adult language and depictions of alcohol use.
NextStop Theatre Company’s production of “Ordinary Days” plays through March 15th at 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA 20170. For tickets and information, click here.