A Day in the Life of Ordinary People
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
May 27, 2005
Energy and pace are maintained for the full 50 minutes of A Day in the Life of Ordinary People, Josh Walden’s first musical for which he wrote the book, lyrics, and music and for which he also choreographed and directed. Walden’s undertaking is admirable, particularly because each of the twelve talented cast members has at least one solo. But for all its merits, and there are many, this production suffers from too much parody.
In A Day in the Life, all the residents of a small town in New Hampshire harbor secrets, but they maintain a rosy, public demeanor until one way or another the secrets slip out. A pall takes over the town and reaches its depth when one of the children dies. At the funeral, the child returns as a ghost to plead with his mother to tell the truth to the townspeople, leaving the audience with a moral: an accepting/supportive/broadminded parent/friend/companion makes life a lot easier.
The story is a springboard for the actors to showcase their musical talent. And, this is considerable. Their voices are good, and Walden inserts considerable humor in his lyrics and variety in his compositions. The characters, though mainly caricatures, are memorable. Credit much of this to Rob Bevenger’s splendid 1950s costumes and Steven Kirkham’s adventurous wigs.
Of course, these ordinary people and their nasty little secrets are delivered as a spoof. I love spoof, particularly when it is mixed with a dollop of realism and the humor catches me unaware. Javier Muoz does this as Son 3, the popular high school football stud who loves nothing more than to dress as a woman—behind closed doors. The delivery is terrific. But in other cases, the exaggeration becomes tiresome and prevents the audience from connecting to the characters and the characters from connecting to one another.
Fortunately, the brisk pace and cast energy compensate nicely. Musically, the cast demonstrates individuality and accomplishment, but only one manages to wring any emotional depth from her part, and that is Jene Hernandez, who as Mother 1 loses her son to cancer. The script gives her a semblance of a connection to her son and when she mourns, the audience feels it.
Walden makes an unfortunate choice when he numbers his characters rather than naming them. Granted, they are supposed to be templates for a larger universe. But, even Our Town has its Emily, making it no less universal and far more personal. Initially, the twelve cast members introduce themselves in quick roll call. Visually, it is clear who they are, but as an audience member, I file all the information given me in case I need it later. I found it difficult to keep track of who was Daughter 1 or 2, Son 1, 2 or 3, or Mother 1, or 2. The numbers distracted from the more relevant parts of the production.
I missed one other thing: a list of the musical numbers in the program. It is clear Walden put a lot of effort into A Day in the Life of Ordinary People, and much of it paid off. While I didn’t walk out humming the tunes, I did refer to my program for reminders of the numbers I had seen and heard. They weren’t listed. My loss. But, overall, Walden did a nice job and I look forward to seeing what he does next.