If you wish your life in New York were a musical comedy (whatever; I do), Ordinary Days -- an operetta-style show now playing at the Roundabout Underground's Black Box Theatre -- allows you to experience that dream vicariously through its four characters, without getting carted off to the loony bin. They break into song so you don't have to.
Deb, Claire, Jason and Warren are all 20-to-30-somethings living in the city. Warren cat-sits for an unknown, imprisoned street artist; Deb is a neurotic grad student; and Jason has just moved in with his girlfriend of one year Claire, who's skeptical about their future and holding onto her past.
Written by Adam Gwon and directed by Marc Bruni, the show, whose title song will be stuck in your head as you leave the theater, is a breezy 80-or-so minutes with no intermission. (Tip: Use the facilities immediately before curtain. But save your seat first. It's general admission and, though all seats are good in this tiny venue, some that I wasn't sitting in seemed somehow preferable.)
Ordinary Days isn't a musical comedy in the way Bye, Bye, Birdie is a musical comedy, with its larger than life numbers and exaggerated characters. Instead, what makes Ordinary Days funny is the familiarity of the mundane situations the characters experience and that sad, knowing, introspective laugh that comes with Deb singing "Dear Professor Thompson," asking her thesis adviser for an extension, or all four singing "Saturday at the Met." The four characters, who could easily fall into stereotypes -- the anxious student, the gay aspiring art promoter -- don't. They're relatable.
The actors themselves are even recognizable. Kate Wetherhead (Deb) was in the original companies of Legally Blonde the Musical and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Jared Gertner (Warren) was in Spelling Bee. Hunter Foster (Jason) looks familiar from something, but you won't be able to place him, and Lisa Brescia (Claire) has played Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway and doesn't look that familiar but still has a lovely voice and nice hair.
In its insider New York appeal, the show is a bit like Avenue Q, without the puppets or the raunchy songs or inappropriate dialogue or stomach-cramping belly laughs. But as the woman sitting next to me said as she was getting up to leave, That was wonderful -- I would have happily paid $70.
She'd paid only $20 for her tickets, the going rate. As a HipTix member, I had paid $10 for mine, which is less than a movie costs in New York. If you're an 18-to-35-year-old New Yorker yourself, I recommend signing up for HipTix (you get discount tickets to all Roundabout shows, including Bye, Bye, Birdie, which I hope to see next week).
A broad cross-section of New Yorkers (me, the 27-year-old boy I was with, and the three people of indeterminate age between 50 and 65 sitting next to me) all enjoyed Ordinary Days, and in the unlikely case you like the theater but don't like this show, the worst that happens is you're out $20 and an hour and a half.
Ordinary Days, with the tagline, a "musical about making real connections in the city that never sleeps (but probably should at some point)," is playing at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (at the Block Box Theatre), W. 46th at 6th Ave. (between 6th and 7th), until December 13.