VIA TESSERACT THEATRE COMPANY
Deb (Lauren Tenenbaum) watches as Warren (Jacob Schmidt) shares positive message flyers from a New York rooftop, Claire (Brittani O’Connell) and Jason (Michael Lowe) are among the passersby who find one.
Warren, a lifelong New Yorker, is trying to find his voice by busking and pet sitting for a currently incarcerated artist. Deb is smart, curious and channeling her drive and energy by enrolling in grad school. Jason loves Claire, and the two are in the process of moving into Claire’s current space together. With this simple, everyday set up in place, Tesseract Theatre’s take on Adam Gwon’s serendipitous Ordinary Days
sparkles and endears.
Set in New York City in 2005, the uplifting musical delivers on its hopeful promise with scenes that intersect without always meeting. Tesseract Theatre’s production is both laugh out loud funny and tearfully touching, leading to a truly cathartic denouement.
Jacob Schmidt’s high, charismatic baritone exudes a sense of friendly, hopeful exasperation as the poetically inclined Warren. He’s cheerfully handing out flyers on a busy intersection and only hints at his uncertainty with occasional tremolo. Brittani O’Connell and Michael Lowe, as lovers Claire and Jason, both pass him by, preoccupied. He bumps into Lauren Tenenbaum’s Deb. Lost in her own thoughts, she initially scowls before smiling and taking a flyer.
Tenenbaum crisply articulates her frustration with life and her desperation at losing her graduate thesis notes with a well-controlled mezzo-soprano. O’Connell’s soprano is emotionally expressive, revealing unexpected pain and vulnerability. Lowe’s lower range is nicely wide ranging and warm; even in his most uncertain and annoyed moments his voice is unflappably comforting. Just as the story arc intermixes the mundane of the everyday with significant experiences, the score is deceptively straightforward, yet incredibly well executed. These are intimate, personal stories that capture the universal through catchy, pleasant melodies with surprising texture and tone.
Though the story trends towards maudlin self-indulgence, director Elizabeth Wurm, music director Zach Neumann and assistant director Kevin Corpuz lean into the extra-ordinary here. Everyone experiences similar life events. The skill is capturing these experiences in ways that elicit our emotional response rather than simply playing on them. The cast is invested without excess, the songs feel effortless and accessible to a broad audience without losing their honesty.
Tesseract has built its reputation through a modern humanist approach to theater. The smaller musical, staged in an intimate space with a compelling cast and piano for accompaniment, reflects that aesthetic. And the piano may be the smartest decision the creative team made. The balance is excellent for this space. O’Connell, Lowe, Tenenbaum and Schmidt harmonize well, in tone and emotion; the scaled back pit allows us to hear their impressive performances.
Tesseract Theatre Company likely startled more than a few regular audience members when it announced its first musical production and the upcoming The Last Five Years
. By keeping the focus on remarkably relatable stories with a cast that looks, sounds and inhabits authentic humans, the company has shown it has room to play with music as well. The effectively heartwarming Ordinary Days
, though not seasonally themed, provides a lovely little boost of happy to start your holiday season.
Ordinary Days is presented by Tesseract Theatre Company at the .Zack (3224 Locust Street) through Sunday, November 27. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 to $25.
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