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Beauty found in ordinariness of couples going nowhere fast

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It hardly takes up-and-coming American composer Adam Gwon a New York minute to plunk his audience down in a bustling Big Apple, following four singletons who seem to be a hurry, but who aren't really going anywhere.

Gwon also is in a rush in his fast-paced contemporary musical Ordinary Days, a whirlwind 80-minute drama told entirely through songs that require his unhappy characters to let loose densely worded bursts of thoughts and feelings about their crappy lot in life. The fear of being subjected to another predictable musical with whinging New Yorkers singing about their problems in an uncaring "city of strangers" also quickly passes.

Gwon convinces in Ordinary Days, given a commendable Canadian première through a Winnipeg Studio Theatre-Angelwalk Theatre of Toronto co-production, that he is a fresh voice whose lyrics are nimble and fun and well-served by contemporary music, that however is not out of the ordinary.

He captures his young people as their dreams collide with reality, and the only way forward is to let go of the past.

Warren is an upbeat but struggling artist who spends his days passing out flyers with fortune-cookie-calibre sentiments. No one pays him any attention, which makes him feel invisible. One of the few passers-by to take one of his motivational handouts is Deb, a neurotic graduate student who wants to be anywhere but where she is.

She loses the notes to her thesis; they are found by Warren, who arranges a meeting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The other couple, meanwhile, have just moved in together, which thrills the well-dressed and well-intentioned Jason, but soon has the restless Claire second-guessing the intrusion on her space and her readiness to connect. They try a bonding exercise, based on a magazine article titled "10 Things to Do in New York Before You Leave It," which also leads them to the Met.

Among the art treasures, Gwon quickly reveals the personalities of his melancholy quartet as each appraises the art. Warren glories in the simple pleasures of the works, something the impatient Deb has no time for. Jason and Claire's contrary tastes leave them alone in different wings. Gwon posits that they won't see "the big picture" until they recognize the beauty in ordinary things.

While the production values are modest, director Kayla Gordon has found a winning cast, each member in fine, powerful voice and adept at clearly delivering Gwon's 19-song cycle, orchestrated for the first time by local composer Joseph Aragon and performed ably by pianist Paul De Gurse, violinist Viktoria Grynenko and cellist Aleska Henriques.

Jay Davis' Jason is painfully aware that he lives with Claire but not in her heart, a feeling beautifully expressed in his ballad Favorite Places. Claire's narrative arc is obvious by her list of musical numbers -- Let Things Go, I'm Trying, Gotta Get Out of Here and I'll Be Here -- all of which Clara Scott performs beautifully with a touch of sadness.

Justin Bott makes the audience pay attention to Warren -- a guy most people would typically ignore or find annoying, if they gave him a thought -- with a glass-half-full appeal, despite his loneliness with a chaser of loneliness.

Joining the Toronto trio is local Connie Manfredi, making a splendid professional debut as Deb, a role she inhabits without a false step. Manfredi radiates the personal mayhem of being someone constantly in crisis and earns plenty of laughs with her highlight song, Calm. Best of all, she makes us want Deb back onstage despite her character's exasperating personality -- you just wouldn't want her in front of you at the Starbuck's counter.

Ordinary Days does not guarantee an extraordinary night at the theatre, but there is beauty to be found in its ordinariness.

Theatre Review

Ordinary Days

Winnipeg Studio Theatre

To Nov. 25 at Tom Hendry Warehouse

Tickets: $26-$34 at 204-942-6537

Four stars

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 D5

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