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Review: Pursued by Bear's ORDINARY DAYS

Review by Ian Andrew

As a work of contemporary musical theatre, Ordinary Days never garnered the same acclaim as comparable works created around the time. At first glance it seems obvious why - it is short, unorchestrated, Adam Gwon's score sounds like a collection of rejected numbers from Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World and the book concerns itself with the daily interactions of four rather ordinary people. Fortunately, first impressions can be deceiving. This production of Ordinary Days is sublime and verifies the show's central idea that the ordinary can be beautiful.

The Chapel off Chapel loft hosts a simple and striking set comprising numerous towering translucent fabric sheets as the floating buildings of the shows New York setting, closely modelled on the set design of the 2016 new Australian musical Crossroads, also directed by Tyran Parke. In stark and effective opposition to these opalescent cloth monoliths the remainder of the set is simply a few geometric black sculptures which double as furniture and seating throughout the show. Lighting designer Jason Crick takes full advantage of the contrasting set-pieces and delivers a deceptively complex lighting plot, keeping the cast in sharp focus while washing the set with sombre colours centred around deep blues. Led by Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe, a piano and three strings underscore the through-sung material well - the specially-written string arrangements were a welcome and effective addition, suggesting that the show might benefit from further arrangement. Celine Khong on sound blends instruments and voices imperceptibly well.

The stars must have aligned when Parke was casting the show, with all four actors delivering performances that were independently convincing and endearing, but collectively perfectly balanced and engaging. As couple Claire and Jason, Brittanie Shipway and Matthew Hamilton deliver a believable and moving narrative of the journey leading up to a pivotal moment in their relationship. Hamilton is sincere and effortless, with his general light-heartedness making his romantic or introspective moments more poignant. Shipway shines with Idina Menzel-like vocals and impressive acting, her reluctance to progress the relationship and her tangible anxiety providing the conflict of the story. Her penultimate number 'I'll Be Here', delivered to an unwaveringly attentive Hamilton, may well be one of the best things to appear on stage this year. Meanwhile fresh-faced Nicola Bowman and Joel Granger are wonderfully lovable as 20-something year old strangers-turned-unlikely friends Deb and Warren. As the pair struggle to find their place in the world, bringing about the show's somewhat fantastical events in the process, Bowman's neurotic and enraged Deb impresses with unfaltering energy, especially in her patter songs, and Granger's eternally optimistic Warren is charming. Together the pair have an almost Astaire-Rogers charisma and are eminently watchable.

Staging and direction is tight and effective, moments are bittersweet without being overplayed, and the fact that the balcony paper-throwing scene comes off as magical and not the least bit contrived is a testament to the sensitive and clever delivery of the actors and production team.

The show runs for around one hour, but the production is so engrossing it feels like twenty minutes. Do yourself a favour and don't miss this one.

Tickets to Ordinary Days are available individually or as a discounted package deal with 21 Chump Street.

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