Multi-Tony Award winner and versatile director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall makes IN TRANSIT, billed as “Broadway’s first a cappela musical” move about as viably as possible. And that’s not easy because the score’s format is a gimmick, the characters are cardboard and the story is really no more than a collection of sung skits with a very thin thematic veneer.
IN TRANSIT’s premise: a group of late twentysomethings (dare we say millenials?) making their way in The Big Apple. Their commutes to work and to play on the NYC subway system - getting as they sing, from “there to there” in search of the “here” - is the basis for a slim but expedient theme that seems applied to a string of songs “based on original concepts” credited in the program to six individuals (dare we say committee?). What really connects the proceedings, literally, is an in-floor conveyor that runs the length of the long thrust stage at Circle in the Square. Scenic designer Donyale Werle imagines this as the subway track. As backdrop, there is, if not an original, a colorful and serviceable subway station leading down to the tracks. Director Marshall moves the cast up and down the stairs, to and fro on the track. She keeps the trains moving on time.
The score, credited to four of the six also credited with the concept of IN TRANSIT, seems composed by committee. Even adjusting the ear to the novelty of the lack of instrumentation, the songs lack shared motif, or melody for that matter. The tunes go from pop, folk, hip hop, Broadway ballad and back again as often as the shuttle from Grand Central to Times Square. The gifted beatbox artist Steven “HeaveN” Cantor impressively provides percussive backbone to songs, and subway sound effects, too. The rest of the cast sings perfectly well.
What’s most troublesome about IN TRANSIT are the characters of the two lead couples. Whatever appeal they hold reflects the attractiveness and talent of the performers themselves because the characters don’t elicit much empathy. Will struggling actress Jane (enthusiastically played by ROCKY’s Margo Seibert) get her big Broadway break or get trapped in the temp office job she excels at? Will preppie, ex-Wall Streeter Nate (played by James Snyder last seen in IF/THEN) find personal meaning in a new career? Will Jane and Nate who once met by chance on the subway platform ever meet again? Will the engaged gay couple Trent and Steven overcome Trent’s being in the closet to his mother back in Texas and really tie the knot? Panhandling pleas on a real subway car have more verisimilitude.
The book’s humor involves stale sight gags (the stuck subway turnstile) or flirts with racial stereotype (the sassy, Black Mama as station manager). The one number that’s memorable is “Wingman” in which impressive supporting player Nicholas Ward, with spontaneity unique to the show, leads the boys bar-hopping on the hunt for girls.
Despite the multiracial cast and modern political correctness that shellacs over a lot of IN TRANSIT’s clichés, one might expect the boys to find Miss Subway… but that’s ON THE TOWN. Now that’s a real musical.
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