The cast is universally strong - all four performers are fantastic singers.
—Joff Schmidt, CBC theatre reviewer
You might expect a title like Ordinary Days to be ironic - perhaps this musical is really about extraordinary days? Or at least an understatement - maybe these days are slightly abnormal days, somehow.
But nope - Ordinary Days really is about the ordinary days of four young New Yorkers, and what beauty there is to be found in those ordinary days.
It's a bold approach to try to make engaging art from the mundane - but Ordinary Days is at best only partially successful in that effort.
The chamber musical revolves around four people trying to navigate the concrete jungle of NYC - the irrepressible artist Warren (Justin Bott); neurotic grad student Deb (Connie Manfredi, the lone local in the cast); and Jason and Claire (Jay Davis and Clara Scott), a couple trying to keep their relationship together.
The 2008 musical by New York's Adam Gwon is given its Canadian debut here in a co-production between Toronto's Angelwalk Theatre and Winnipeg Studio Theatre (the company behind Fringe Festival hits like Altar Boyz and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee).
The production - helmed by WST artistic director Kayla Gordon - does its best to overcome the shortcomings of the material, and succeeds at points. The cast is universally strong - all four performers are fantastic singers. Manfredi and Bott find wonderfully funny notes in their characters, nailing Gwon's witty lyrics with smart comic timing and delivering plenty of laughs in this snappy, 80-minute show. Davis and Scott are fine performers as well, but stuck with painfully generic characters.
Gwon is as skilled a tunesmith as he is a lyricist - his music is subtly complex, and superbly performed here by pianist Paul De Gurse, violinist Viktoria Grynenko, and cellist Aleska Henriques, working with arrangements by Winnipeg playwright Joseph Aragon.
All of this, though, simply dresses up a piece of theatre that's just too thin. The characters here struggle with unsympathetic thesis advisors, cold New Yorkers, and what kind of wine to bring for dinner. The stuff of great dramatic potential this is not - and indeed, much of Ordinary Days feels like privileged people whinging about distinctly "First World problems."
Gwon makes a late - very late - in the game attempt to infuse this with greater meaning, via a message about finding the wonder in the ordinary. But it comes too little, too late. The sheer ordinariness of Ordinary Days has already precluded a real emotional engagement with its audience long before that point.
There's definite talent behind this production - which heads off for a Toronto run after its Winnipeg dates, in an ambitious move for Winnipeg Studio Theatre. It's just a shame they don't have more compelling material to showcase those talents.
Ordinary Days runs at the Tom Hendry Theatre (MTC Warehouse) until Nov. 25, and from Nov. 29 to Dec. 9 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.