BWW Reviews: ORDINARY DAYS, London Theatre Workshop, March 12 2014
I like New York almost as much as I like to avoid musicals about the place and the people living in it; for there's a whole sub-genre of musical theatre which concerns perky young-ish people in Manhattan navel gazing and emphatically singing their heads off while they do so - navel belting, if you will - and, generally speaking, I'm not a fan.
That said, Ordinary Days by Adam Gwon, while undoubtedly falling into this category, is a good deal more palatable than most examples of the genre and is presented extremely effectively in this debut offering from London Theatre Workshop. Thanks to director Ray Rackham's gentle, uncluttered approach, a bouncy score played wonderfully by musical director Thomas Lees and a small but strikingly talented cast of four, the brisk 80-minute sojourn to the Big Apple is consistently and undeniably enjoyable.
The plot involves two pairs: a failing couple struggling to maintain a genuine connection and two strangers who are just about to make one, and it's the latter thread that's the more compelling. Olga-Marie Pratt as the harassed, highly-strung - and in less capable hands probably unlikeable - Deb is the evening's standout, admittedly appealing to the cynic in me, but generally hers is a hugely funny, committed and vocally precise performance. In addition, her counterpart and foil, Anton Tweedale's Warren, has a winning, somewhat off-kilter charm and the two work terrifically well together.
Completing the cast, Oliver Watton as Jason and Marcia Brown (Claire) lend their troubled couple a sense of authenticity, especially during the back-and-forth bickerfest 'Fine', a crowd-pleasing highlight of the score. However, with all the conflict on display, my inner cynic couldn't quite get past the feeling that these two people should categorically not be together, making certain aspects of the piece's resolution land a bit soggily.
Although I didn't exactly leave humming the tunes - as is often the way with this kind of show, the songs are sometimes very good, frequently witty and occasionally insightful, but earworms they ain't - I was nonetheless won over by the class and calibre of the performances and the production as a whole, and particularly how well it conjures up such a tangible sense of the city so simply (a credit to designer Jonti Angel).
Of course, it didn't hurt that the venue is a rare pleasure to visit; a huge cut above what one would expect from a 'pub theatre', I suspect I'll be making several return visits as the Workshop's promising inaugural season continues. With Ordinary Days, it's off to a very strong start.