The lives of the four young New Yorkers featured in Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days may well be nothing out of the ordinary, but the same cannot be said about the exquisite chamber musical which Southern Californians first discovered in 2010 in its big-stage West Coast Premiere at South Coast Repertory.

Now, director Patrick Pearson and a talented cast of Cal State Fullerton Musical Theater BFA majors bring Gwon’s musical back to its intimate theater roots at CSUF’s off-campus black box, Santa Ana’s Grand Central Theatre, and what a gem of a production it is.

 Jack Robert Riordan is nerdy gay guy Warren, currently house-sitting for a jailed “graffiti artist.” Young Warren admires said artist’s fortune cookie-ready slogans so highly that he’s taken it upon himself to print them up on colored half-sheets of paper which he hands out to mostly disinterested passers-by. An example: “Kindness Is A Virtue That Is Oftentimes Ignored.” (I think I’ve found that in a fortune cookie or two.)

One of the rare pedestrians to actually take one of Warren’s slogan sheets is Deb (Amanda Sylvia), an edgy, intense grad student whose bookful of thesis notes on Virginia Woolf Warren happens to find. Naturally Warren emails Deb to reassure her that her notes are safe, and despite a rather strained first meeting, the twosome were clearly made for each other in Will And Grace heaven.

Jason (Charles Allen McCoy) and Claire (Laurel Petti) are a long-term couple finally moving in together, though their connection seems considerably less secure than Warren’s and Deb’s. Claire reacts none too happily to the junk Jason has brought along with him to their new place, and one can’t help but wonder if the lady has deeper issues with cohabitation and commitment than merely an aversion to clutter.

Ordinary Days keeps its two couples pretty much separate throughout its 80-minute running time, two pairs of New Yorkers whose lives only briefly cross, a phenomenon which might not work in your average musical but seems entirely appropriate in Ordinary Days’ Manhattan.

Composer-lyricist Gwon’s melodies are the kind whose beauty grows on you the more you listen to them. As for his nimble lyrics, since Ordinary Days is almost entirely sung-through, its story gets told almost entirely in the words Gwon has set to music so adeptly that they make for a surprisingly coherent storyline.

The latter proves particularly true as directed and staged by current Ovation Award nominee Pearson and his multitalented cast, all four of whom are members of CSUF’s highly selective BFA program, one which provides gifted young performers with the training to prepare them for the bright Broadway and regional theater careers they’ve got ahead of them.

Fresh from her electric turn as Anybodys in the Chance Theater’s West Side Story, Sylvia proves that extraordinary things do indeed come in petite packages as she burns up the stage with Gwon’s sassy, self-confident, self-obsessed, anti-heroine. As for Deb’s tour-de-force solo “Calm” (“I spend all my time trying to get calm…but it’s not working!), Sylvia makes it every bit the showstopper it’s supposed to be—and then some.

Reluctant as Deb is to assign bff status to Warren, with Riordan in the role, it’s a wonder that it’s not adoration at first sight, so winningly does he play this adorable, shaggy-haired nerd, a character Riordan imbues with a rainbow spectrum of quirks you will likely find hard to resist—even if it takes Deb considerably longer to warm to Warren’s many charms.

As Claire, Petti proves herself a bona fide star in the making with girl-next-door beauty and a splendid set of pipes that make us want to embrace Claire even as she does everything possible to keep Jason at arm’s length, to his—and our own—frustration and confusion. Petti gets to solo Ordinary Days’ most powerful song, the eleventh hour “I’ll Be There” (in which it all comes clear), and if she doesn’t give your tear ducts a workout, a visit to the heart doctor is in order.

The terrific (and terrifically likeable) McCoy completes the tiptop CSUF cast as Ordinary Days’ most all-around good guy—handsome, well-dressed, and well-intentioned, and just wait till McCoy sings “If there’s a hundred million people I just want to be with one” and see if you don’t want to just up and smack Claire for not seeing what’s right in front of her eyes.

Those like this reviewer who first caught Ordinary Days at South Coast Rep might wonder whether that gorgeously designed production could be stripped down to the barest set possible and still be as effective. How bare are we talking? Try three black boxes, two of them square-shaped and one of them rectangular, surrounded by four black walls. That’s all there is, except for the onstage upright piano which at least once becomes part of the scenic design.

And you know what? It turns out that Ordinary Days works very well indeed sans multilevel set, projections, furniture sliding on and off stage, and designer-created costumes. Those three boxes get endlessly moved about in the most ingenious of ways as Dallas Gaspar’s imaginative lighting design does its visual wonders. As for the costumes, they are the cast’s personal choices and a quite character-appropriate selection at that.

One element that has remained constant in New York, Costa Mesa, and Santa Ana is Ordinary Days’ far-from-ordinary one-piano accompaniment, which as arranged by Andy Einhorn somehow manages to take the place of an entire orchestra, percussion included, and which musical director Diane King Vann performs to perfection. (Pearson’s direction also has Vann double wordlessly—and hilariously—as an overworked Starbucks barista.)

Eric Bridges is stage manager.

Characters in Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals may often lead extraordinary lives, but that doesn’t necessarily add up to extraordinary musical theater. As directed by Patrick Pearson and performed by Charles McCoy, Laurel Petti, Jack Riordan, Amanda Sylvia, and Diane King Vann, Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days proves that the quotidian can be something special indeed—even when all you’ve got on a black box stage are a few black boxes, a piano, and a whole lot of talent.

CSUF Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.

–Steven Stanley
October 11, 2012

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