By: Ryan Quinn
Last week, I spoke with the cast of Adam Gwon’s musical Ordinary Days, which just finished its run in Winnipeg, and is playing for a limited engagement until December 9th at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Directed by Kayla Gordon and produced by Angelwalk Theatre, Ordinary Days follows four New Yorkers throughout a day as they face their own demons and those of the big city.
This show was originally produced at Roundabout Theatre in New York, but this production features new orchestrations by Joseph Aragon (who also composed Theatre20’s Bloodless) and those orchestrations will become a standard option for all productions of the show in the future.
The show stars Justin Bott as Warren, a frustrated artist who finds a notebook belonging to Deb (Connie Manfredi), a grad student working on her thesis on Virginia Wolfe. The show also stars Jay Davis and Clara Scott as Jason and Claire, a couple on the brink of moving in together, who are experiencing a relationship crisis.
When I spoke to the cast, they had just moved into the Studio Theatre space at the TCA, and remarked that it immediately felt like a perfect place to mount the production. I asked if the show demands a small, conversational space, and Justin Bott replied that when they were performing in Winnipeg, they had to create the illusion of that intimate space in a larger area, but that this space immediately creates that atmosphere.
We also spoke about how approaching a sung-through musical is different than approaching one with more text, and the cast agreed that the approach is nearly the same. Bott remarked on how the challenge is to not have a sung-through show be very “musical-y”, saying: “A lot of these new musicals that are being written are not so much like the old musicals where it’s a dramatic scene launching into an even more dramatic song, everything is on a level of conversational”. He went on to explain that the music is telling the actor some information, and the lyrics are telling the actor some information as well, and that can make the exploration a little easier.
Connie Manfredi noted that in musicals with more dialogue, the challenge is that the spoken text has to lead you to a place where singing is the only option because the character can’t bring themselves to speak anymore, but in a musical like this, it’s heightened to that level from the beginning of the scene, and indeed throughout the play, so that can be difficult. Jay Davis mentioned that when he performed in last year’s production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, the process was to learn each song note for note, then make it his own emotionally without disrupting or modifying the composition of the songs. In that sense, it’s a two-step process, but the result is a fully realized character that lives within the confines of the musical’s orchestrations, and, in some ways, is freed by them.
You can catch Ordinary Days at the studio theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until December 9th, call (416) 250-3708 or visit http://www.tocentre.com.