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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
IN TRANSIT
at Circle in the Square

ZOO YORK
By BRIAN SCOTT LIPTON

  Margo Siebert and James Snyder/ Ph: Joan Marcus

As Stephen Sondheim told us in Gypsy, you gotta get a gimmick. The creators of the new Broadway musical In Transit, now at Circle in the Square, have not only taken that advice to heart, they went one better – in their attempt to transform what is essentially a fairly ordinary revue about life in New York in the 21st Century into something extraordinary. The result is a small-scale, crowd-pleasing show that may still struggle to find a crowd.

The 100-minute show’s first gimmick is that it takes place mostly in the New York City subway system (the effective set is by the great Donyale Werle), both in its stations and in its cars. And yet, for all the jokes about rats carrying pizza, locals turning into expresses and Metrocard machines rejecting crumpled $10 bills, ultimately the idea of getting to places via the MTA is primarily a big metaphor for the necessity of moving through life.

The second gimmick is that the show is sung a cappella. But thankfully, the score (credited to Oscar winner Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth) is short on Pentatonix-type choral numbers (sorry if that’s your thing) and longer on traditional Broadway-style ballads and anthems. What “music” exists is mostly provided by the character of Boxman (alternated by Chesney Snow and Steven “Heaven” Cantor), a kind of human drum who also doubles as the show’s one-man Greek chorus.

It’s Boxman who meets (or at least observes) the five main characters: Jane (the wonderfully affecting Margo Siebert), an actress-cum-office temp who may finally land her first Broadway show after 15 years in New York; Nate (the stalwart James Snyder), who has been laid off from his Wall Street job after sending an inappropriate email and is adjusting slowly to his new reality; Nate’s sister Ali (the endearing Erin Mackey), who runs marathons and attends group therapy in an attempt to get over being dumped by the doctor for whom she moved to the Big Apple; and Trent (a surprisingly sublime Justin Guarini) – who is Jane’s agent – and Steven (a welcome, smooth-voiced Telly Leung), an upscale gay couple planning a wedding but dealing with one big hitch. Trent has yet to come out to his religious Texas family. 

Their personal issues are played out primarily through catchy songs (“Do What I Do,” “Four Days Home,” “We Are Home,” “The Moving Song”) that smartly capture the characters’ emotional states, each of which is beautifully performed. Moreover, it’s a great testament to these fine actors that they deliver a second dimension of sorts to their sketchily drawn alter egos. Obviously, the authors want these people to feel familiar to us, but they’re a little too clichéd for us to fully care about whether they get their happy endings. (And frankly, there isn’t much doubt about that.)

This main quintet is supported by five other fine, if mostly underused, performers, with the one exception being the superb Moya Angela, an African American woman with a strong voice and superior acting chops who embodies Trent’s loving if frustrated mother, Jane’s practical and pragmatic boss and, especially, a no-nonsense MTA employee named Althea with equal conviction. It’s Althea’s ending, by the way, that may be the most surprising thing about In Transit.

Or make that the second most surprising. The show has been directed and choreographed by Tony winner Kathleen Marshall, yet not a single person tap dances. Instead, she moves the show at a steady, slightly unrushed pace, even when her characters are running for trains (and almost always catching them instantly). Whose New York is this supposed to be anyway?

 


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