Monday, December 26, 2016

Review of "In Transit"

For people that appreciate a cappella music for their stylized vocal arrangements and exquisite sounds then the new Broadway musical, In Transit, will be an entertaining treat. 

The show, with book, music, and lyrics by Kristen Anderson Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth, follows the lives of five individuals as they wrestle with personal crises, cope with unfulfilling relationships, and maneuver through the sometimes unforgiving city of New York and its transit system.  The plot of the musical uncovers no new emotional territory and retreads familiar themes, but the strength of the production is the vocal gymnastics, not the dramatic machinations. 

The score is comprised of songs that are tuneful and catchy, that bop and rock to the beat box backing of the talented Chesney Snow.  The focus is on the crisp, unadulterated singing performed by the actors and actresses.  The voices are beautifully blended and artistically arranged and orchestrated with tight harmonies and a sweetly satisfying balance.  Kudos for the a cappella arrangements by Deke Sharon and musical supervision by Rick Hip-Flores.  They deserve high praise for the wall of sound they have created for the acting troupe. 

The cast doesn’t have to stretch their acting muscles but, nevertheless, deliver sound performances that keep the audience modestly intrigued between songs.  Chesney Snow, one of the two rotating beat boxers in the production, is a proficient and masterly artist.  He handles many roles—accompanist (remember there are no instruments in the musical), narrator, and a somewhat linkage with the central stories. Justin Guarini as Trent and Arbender Robinson as Steven are agreeable performers portraying a gay couple trying to navigate their avowed relationship.  Erin Mackey as Ali is equally agreeable as a jilted lover.  James Snyder as the frazzled, career challenged, Nate and Margo Seibert as the struggling and driven actress, Jane have more developed characters then the other actors.  Their performances draw us in to their plights and make us want to cheer for them.

In her dual role as Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall gives the production a consistent flow and dynamism.  The actors playfully mimic the feel of a New York subway car, with all the bumps and tussles associated with a ride.  The musical is at its best when the entire ensemble is on stage.  It gives an opportunity for Ms. Marshall to up the energy as the theater pulsates with vibrancy, a reminder of the flurry of activity during the evening rush hour. 

The creative team, led by set designer Donyale Werle, Lighting Designer Donald Holder, Sound Designer Ken Travis, and Projection Designer Caite Hevner has meshed their talents to fashion a creditable subway station albeit with a number of added bells and whistles we wouldn’t normally see below ground.  A moveable strip down the center of the flooring gives movement to a static stage as an imaginary subway line arrives and departs on an infrequent timetable.

In Transit, an enjoyable and appealing musical not just for a cappella aficiandos.

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