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Manhattan Transfer

February 18, 2015 Reviews Comments Off on Manhattan Transfer

Ordinary Days – BoHo Theatre Company

 

Warren has come to New York City to begin life as an artist. He’s snared an easy job apartment- and cat-sitting for an artist, but he’s been alone now for quite a while. While handing out fliers, he imagines that he’s really making contacts with other New Yorkers. In fact, he has. Deb, has relocated to the Big Apple in order to pursue her masters degree. One day Deb  suffers a panic attack when she accidentally misplaces all of her research notes for her thesis. Unexpectedly, she receives word from a stranger who’s found her notebook and is willing to return it to her if Deb will agree to simply meet him. Jason hopes and dreams of meeting someone special to share his life. He treasures his fantasies of true romance and an honest connection. Is his new girlfriend that special person? After a long time, Claire is still trying to recover from the loss of her first true love when she meets Jason. It’s frightening and feels like betrayal. Can these two Manhattanites build a life together? Can Warren and Deb become friends? How will these four desperate young people ever achieve some kind of connection?

Adam Gwon’s sensational new musical is a breath of fresh air. It’s tight, succinct and full of revelations that aren’t exactly new but, as presented through this musical, are great reminders of the bitter-sweet demands we call life. It’s remarkably realistic, brutally honest and filled with the hopes and dreams of four young people on the brink of new discoveries. He’s created a quartet of interesting, likable, three-dimensional characters who, through a series of short scenes and beautiful songs, seek to connect with someone…anyone. It becomes a joy to watch them find each other.

Director Jason A. Fleece has directed this enjoyable production, already an intimate story, within the modest confines of the Heartland BoHo Theatre - Ordinary Days - Nick Graddagna and Hannah Dawe [photo by mark campbell] 371Studio Theatre. It’s the perfect venue because the audience is never more than a few feet away from the actors. It’s like sitting in your living room listening to four friends sharing their stories. Patrick Ham’s setting is artistic and adaptable. His off-white wall filled with doors and cupboards allows actors to come and go with ease, while providing storage for any required props.

Fleece uses every inch of this space wisely and keeps the musical in continual motion. He uses the aisles, as well as the tiny playing area, with Ilana Atkins’ flawless musical direction and piano accompaniment emanating from backstage. The balance between vocal and instrumental is perfect, however one element needs to be addressed. Even with a full house (30 patrons is the maximum) the acoustics can be somewhat unforgiving. Two of the actors in this cast possess such powerful singing voices that, when hitting Gwon’s high notes, their sound becomes more piercing than pleasurable. Moderation in vocal production is needed to accommodate the size of this room.

That said, this is a dream cast. Bravo to BoHo for casting four relative newcomers in these star-making roles. Nick Graffagna, one of the standouts in Griffin Theatre’s recent production of “Titanic,” is Warren. He plays this young artist with sensitivity, compassion and absolute honesty. His vocals are strong and direct, as are his connections with cast mates. Mr. Graffagna is an actor to watch. Hannah BoHo Theatre - Ordinary Days - Courtney Jones and Demetruis Spidle [photo by mark campbell] 142Dawe is a revelation in this production. As Deb, she’s beautifully quirky, contemporary and as sincere as anyone you’d ever meet. Ms. Dawe’s vocals impress but never become unnecessarily showy or distracting. Hopefully this is a role that will propel both of these young actors into future leading roles at other theatres.

Courtney Jones, not exactly a newcomer to the Chicago theatre scene, is perfectly cast as Claire. This stunningly beautiful actress fully understands how to use what God gave her to express her character’s love and vulnerability. A singer with a beautifully trained voice, Ms. Jones’ sublime eleventh hour ballad, “I’ll Be Here,” may be the finest musical moment in a show brimming with great songs. It certainly brought tears to the audience opening night. Demetrius Spidle makes his welcome Chicago debut in the role of Jason, a good-looking guy looking for love, security and a meaningful connection. He plays macho quite well, but it’s his honest, emotional accessibility that makes him so appealing in this role. Mr. Spidle’s first song, “The Space Between,” is sung with sincerity and passion and introduces the audience to a young man who’s worth knowing. Individually, each of these actors is terrific; as an ensemble, this quartet offers a magical combination.

Like a fine wine, BoHo Theatre Company gets better with time. Every production they offer explores new ground, introduces Chicago audiences to exciting, new performers and presents plays and musicals, filled with “innovative storytelling…examining Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love through the lens of human relationships.” This new, chamber musical, so expertly acted, sung and produced, is a perfect reflection of this company’s growing excellence.

Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Colin Douglas

 

Presented February 12-March 15 by BoHo Theatre at the Heartland Studio Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago.

Tickets are available by calling the box office at 866-811-4111 or by going to www.bohotheatre.com.

Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.


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