Imperial Theatre, NYC, November 16, 2016
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes
Think about it. You just got through the daily subway grind to work and back home again, shoving through crowds and hanging on straps. Is In Transit, a musical about subways, a show you really want to see?
On the plus side, it has a talented a cappella singing group performing the entire score to Deke Sharon’s (TV’s Pitch Perfect) impressive harmonic arrangements, relating harried tales of New Yorkers, most of them young and ambitious. Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth wrote the book, music and lyrics, based on an original concept with Gregory T. Christopher and Karla Lant. In addition, chances are you won’t go far off course when you have director/choreographer, Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes, The Pajama Game), keeping the energy fluent.
For a contemporary period and sound, Boxman (Chesney Snow, who alternates performances with Steven “HeaveN” Cantor), is an impressive beatbox vocal percussion narrator, aurally mimicking drums and percussion instruments. With a philosophical bent, Boxman comments on the other characters, all playing daily travelers in overlapping stories.
Here is where the show loses much of its charm. The actors are engaging, sometimes amusing, but often over-amplified. In addition, their stories, centered basically around work and/or love, are predictable, pushed up-to-date with references to cell phones, Tweets and Facebook posts. James Snyder stands out as Nate, drawing empathy when he suddenly loses his job. As he diligently chases new leads, he comes up against a recalcitrant subway booth attendant (Moya Angela). Angela is a multi-tasker, playing two other roles as well: a mother who chooses not to recognize her son’s homosexuality and an office manager with gospel pipes, offering “A Little Friendly Advice” to those who can use it (pretty much everyone except Boxman).
Margo Seibert (Rocky) is notable as Jane, an office temp/actress, continuing to “Do What I Do” as she waits for her big show-biz break. Another straphanger is winsome Ali (Erin Mackey), whose boyfriend dumped her, and now she tries to concentrate on training for the marathon.
And there is the gay couple, Trent (Justin Guarini) and Steven (Telly Leung), off to visit Trent’s religiously fundamentalist mother (Moya Angela) in Texas. When Trent can’t bring himself to reveal to Mama that Steven is more than a “roommate,” the couple’s relationship begins to unravel. Guarini (American Idiot) has a moving turn when he delivers Trent’s ballad, “Choosing Not to Know.”
The Circle in the Square works as a perfect theater space for this fluid revue, with seating on three sides of the station. Scenic designer Donyale Werle created a two-level New York subway station, which is, incidentally, the cleanest you’ll see in this city — despite the comic-book “pizza rat” spotted dashing across the back wall. A ticket booth is placed on the upper level and two stairways lead down to the subway platform where a conveyer belt takes the subway track down the center. Donald Holder provides flat lighting and Ken Travis’ city underground sounds all add to the city’s subterranean world. Clint Ramos designed working class clothes with one standout design drawing laughs when Moya Angela struts along the platform in a dress assembled with MetroCards.
Like the subway station setting, which is too spotless to be believed, the stereotyped stories could use more drama and the singers could benefit from catchier songs and less amplification.
In Transit appeared at 59E59 in 2010 and was also featured as Along the Way in the 2003 New York International Fringe Festival.