A special treat comes to us from Angelwalk Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts where they are offering Ordinary Days, written by Adam Gwon. While you may not recognize the title or the author, this is an intimate and original musical that introduces an exhilarating new voice on the musical theatre scene. The excitement of the premiere was enriched by a bit of unexpected off-stage drama.
The role of Claire was to have been played by Clara Scott. When she was taken out by a throat infection, Tess Benger stepped into the role with just one afternoon of preparation. Holding onto a script – just for security – she sailed through the performance with unshakable confidence, winning over the audience of industry members who rewarded her with a wholehearted ovation.
Ordinary Days begins when Deb, a frenzied student loses a book containing all of the notes for her graduate thesis. From this common everyday occurrence, Adam Gwon spins out a cycle of eighteen songs that enrich our understanding of four characters trying to forge a life in modern Manhattan. Gwon’s music captures the jumpy pulse of modern city life and he threads in textures that underscore the longing for fulfillment.
When Warren, a sensitive young guy, finds Deb’s notebook he puts all of his effort into meeting her to return it and explore any romantic possibility that may develop. He even engineers a meeting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where his “Sort-of Fairy Tale” is cut down by Deb’s brusque manner.
Connie Manfredi plays the uptight Deb. Her powerful voice, sometimes at odds with the character’s underlying fears and insecurities, becomes almost childlike as she pleads with her professor for an extension. Playing Warren is Angelwalk regular Justin Bott who continues to impress with his energy, onstage charm, tremendous voice and nearly flawless diction.
Jay Davis offers a thoughtful and very well-sung performance as Jason, who is nervously contemplating moving in with his long-term girlfriend Claire. The chemistry between Davis and his replacement Claire (Tess Benger) is quite effective and their voices blend very well.
In a through-sung musical such as this, you appreciate the efforts of music director Paul De Gurse who keeps the band in proper balance with the singers so that none of the lyrics get missed. The orchestration, created specifically for this production by composer Joseph Aragon, includes a violin and cello which beautifully underscore the romance of the piece. Director Kayla Gordon allows the subtext to drives the narrative and the show builds steadily towards an unexpected and devastating climax.
The title may be Ordinary Days but there is nothing ordinary about this unique, funny and touching original musical.
Ordinary Days plays until Sunday December 9 in the Studio Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge Street. For tickets visit www.angelwalk.ca or call 1-855-985-2787.
Photo: Justin Bott and Coni Manfredi in ORDINARY DAYS.
Photo by Lief Norman.