“We’ve only just met, but you need to get some perspective on the big picture”
Ordinary Days is a musical which played at the Finborough back in 2008 but has been slightly revised and revamped during runs in the USA and returns to London to Trafalgar Studios 2. Completely sung-through, Adam Gwon wrote the music and lyrics to all 18 songs which play out over a nifty 80 minutes and this production features two members of that original London cast, including the rather special Julie Atherton.
It is set in contemporary New York looking at the mundane lives of four young adults and how the problems in their lives forces them to seek and/or reassess the connections they make to get through life. As with so many modern American musicals, the immediate reference point seems to be Jason Robert Brown but I have to say there were moments when the music actually reminded me more of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s work in Avenue Q which was nice.
Alexia Khadime’s grad student Deb is a little comic masterpiece, so recognisably real in her dry humour, prevarications, lack of direction and daffy excuses as she composed an email about her delayed thesis. Plus I connected so much with her in her feelings about art galleries, I laughed out loud several times to her performance alone. And her slow-burning friendship with Lee William-Davis’ nerdy yet winning Warren is a delight as they each slowly peel back their protective metropolitan layers.
The other couple, Claire and Jason, are more troubled even though or maybe because of their recent moving in together. Their angst about living in a shoebox, holding onto possessions masks deeper issues about the fear of commitment and as Claire, Julie Atherton really excels, helped by being given the two best songs in the show and if she does not make you cry with ‘I’ll Be Here’ then there is the distinct possibility you have a heart of stone! Daniel Boys was good as the preppy Jason, though his songs tended to be a bit samey (although he has a good belt!) not really allowing him to paint a more nuanced emotional picture.
This isn’t earth-shattering stuff but then that is not Gwon’s intention, he errs to the side of the quietly observational. He portrays the loneliness of modern urban living so very well and with a real believability in the ways that connections with people can brighten up our lives. The only slight problem I had with the show was the way in which the behaviour of one of the characters is explained away by a more than extraordinary event which kind of flew in the face of the ordinariness of everything else which is its main strength in the end.
I am always glad to see new musical writing, especially in the centre of town and delivered by a cast of this quality, Ordinary Days more than vindicates its place in the West End here. But I can’t help but feel a little sad that we have to look to American writers so often: there’s a false over-familiarity about shows set in New York and lyrics stuffed with US cultural references (I had no idea what an Applebees was…) and I just wish that there was more upcoming British musical writing talent that could be showcased in the same way, featuring shows set in this country.
Tiny gripes aside though, this is a fabulous show featuring interesting writing, some stunning performances and the emotional connections that are built up in the intimate space here are well worth the ticket price. You also have the opportunity to see two of the stars doing cabarets after the show: Julie Atherton on Wednesdays and Daniel Boys on Fridays, deals are available if you get the tickets at the same time.