Circle in the Square Theatre
1633 Broadway at 50th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 25, $89-$159
In the fall of 2010, Primary Stages premiered the a cappella In Transit at 59E59, nabbing a special Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble and earning a nomination for Outstanding Musical, losing out to a little show called The Book of Mormon. A new production of In Transit has now pulled into the Circle in the Square, where it has its ups and downs, stops and starts, just like the New York City subway system. The show is set in an imaginary train station watched over by Boxman (Chesney Snow and Steven “HeaveN” Cantor alternate in the role), a subway beatboxer with a speaker and a microphone who serves as a kind of Greek chorus / narrator, dishing out advice as well as beats. “Really, how you gonna get where you’re going if you don’t know how to be where you are?” he asks. Over the course of ninety-five minutes and sixteen a cappella songs — there are no instruments used; every sound is made by the human voice — various straphangers take stock of their lives while in transit or at their destinations, their stories rooted in genre clichés that seem tailored more for tourists than New Yorkers yet delivered with energetic charm by a very likable cast. Jane (Margo Seibert) is working as a temp while going on auditions, looking for her big acting break. At a bar, she hits it off with Nate (James Snyder), who recently lost his job because of a major “reply all” faux pas. Nate’s sister, Ali (Erin Mackey), has just taken up running to deal with her breakup with Dave (David Abeles), the doctor she moved cross-country to join in New York. Trent (Justin Guarini) and Steven (usually played by Telly Leung, but we saw understudy Arbender Robinson), are planning their wedding, but Steven insists that Trent must stop hiding his sexual orientation from his Bible-thumping mother (Moya Angela) in Texas. The excellent cast also includes Gerianne Pérez, Mariand Torres, and Nicholas Ward; all of the actors except for Snow play multiple roles.
Directed and choreographed by three-time Tony winner Kathleen Marshall (The Pajama Game, Anything Goes), In Transit works best when it is taking place in the subway, on Donyale Werle’s set, which features familiar train seats and platform and a clever conveyer belt that suggests subway car movement while the characters share classic subway thoughts: “I should’ve hailed a cab.” “This aroma’s unique.” “Is that lady pregnant or fat?” “Crap, why is the seat all wet where I just sat?” “Did I just miss my stop?” When the location moves to Texas, to a bar, and to Jane’s office, it’s like someone pulled the emergency cord on the train and we did indeed get off on the wrong stop. The cast displays an endearing chemistry not only in the major storylines but in the playful subplot involving Trent and angry token clerk Althea (Angela). Overseeing it all like a mythological god is Snow, the only actor from the original 2010 production; the sounds that come out of his mouth are hard to believe, like a full band accompanying the rest of the cast’s lovely, soaring voices. The problem, however, is in the writing, which does not feel adult enough, unwilling to take any real risks, so it is not surprising that the book, music, and lyrics were written by a quartet — Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, and Sara Wordsworth — whose resumes include Frozen, Finding Nemo: The Musical, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie & Other Story Books, and the NYC Children’s Theatre’s Dear Albert Einstein. It could have been a much-loved express train, but instead it’s merely a likable local.