by JK Clarke & Sandi Durell
The romanticized New York immigrant story is as old as the city itself. The only difference now is that the “immigrant” is from elsewhere in the United States, not a foreign land. The latest version of that story, in transit—from several of the writers/composers of the 2013 3D animated Disney megahit Frozen and directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall—has just pulled into the Circle in the Square station. The story, told through the common thread of the daily subway commute, follows the parallel tracks of a handful of NYC transplants—the closeted theatrical agent from Texas and his soon to be husband; the Seattle girl who followed a new boyfriend to the city only to get dumped soon after; the possibly budding Broadway star, sweating her way through tedious temp jobs and auditions; and others of that ilk—under the watchful eye of subway beat-boxer cum guardian angel, Boxman (Chesney Snow, in this review, who alternates with Steven “HeaveN” Cantor). Boxman, the most compelling character of the bunch, witnesses the comings and goings of all these folks (even getting to know or interact with a few of them) as they pass through his station, where, using only his voice, a mic and a mixer, he wows passersby—not to mention the audience—with his veritable sound factory of a vocal box. He’s like that guy from Police Academy, Michael Winslow, but with rhythm and no helicopter sounds.
in transit’s often interlinking personal stories are punctuated with the realities of the harshness of life in the city. With book, music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth (based on the concept by that group plus Gregory T. Christopher and Karla Lant), the gorgeous a cappella (Deke Sharon arrangement) numbers touch on everything from continuing to pursue dreams, to going out with buddies on a Saturday night, to visiting “home” to face judgmental friends and family. Most of us can relate to songs like “Broke,” in which unemployed Nate (well cast James Snyder) argues with a subway clerk (the beautiful-voiced and hilarious Moya Angela, who later appears in a MetroCard dress! – costumes Clint Ramos) after losing his last dollar on a defective subway turnstile and pleads, hopelessly, to be allowed through the gate.
While many of the numbers are catchy and all are beautifully performed by a very talented cast that includes the well matched couple Justin Guarini as Trent and Telly Leung as Steven, a perfect Erin MacKey as the love-lost Ali, and the always fetching Margo Seibert as Jane, the story itself lacks depth. Trite is the term that leaps immediately to mind, and it’s hard to shake. The “Oh-my-god-living-in-New York-is-so-exciting-yet-difficult!” trope is flat and unoriginal to those in the know. It’s hard, for example, for locals to get excited about “pizza rat” (who makes a guest appearance) if you realize (from daily observation) that pizza is the healthiest thing eaten all year and at least it’s not gnawing on a nodded-out junkie’s toes.
While the show’s real appeal is the musical numbers, performed a capella (no instruments) with a beautiful blend of voices, the characters are empathetic and stereotypical. We’re rooting for Jane to land her Broadway debut, for Nate to get a job, for Trent’s Texas Bible quoting mother (also Angela) to accept his love for Steven, and for Ali to find happiness. But, longtime New Yorker City residents don’t really want to pay Broadway ticket prices to re-live their dreary twice-daily treks through the subway system (a notable underground set with moving walkway by Donyale Werle) no matter how good the singing or how nice the characters—we’ve been there. So, in transit is really geared to tourists and the newly arrived. And for them it can be an exciting, unusual joyride.
in transit. Now playing at Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue). One hour 35 minutes, no intermission. www.intransitbroadway.com
Photos: Joan Marcus