In Transit continues at the Circle in the Square Theatre, New York.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Just thinking about all the energy that the 11-person cast of In Transit expends during its 100 minutes or so running time can wear you out.
The new Broadway musical is a snappy and slick rendering of the interlocking lives of a group of relatively youngish professional New Yorkers, as they strive to make their mark and find themselves within the hyper-energised environs of the city. They spend a lot of their time going to and fro on the city’s often frantic subway system, thus the title.
Most significantly, though, the show boasts that it is Broadway’s first a cappella musical: all the sounds we hear are produced by ‘actual human voices’, as we’re advised in a pre-show announcement.
It means that when the actors aren’t involved with playing multiple characters on stage or busy changing costumes backstage, they’re either on or off stage supplying the vocal accompaniments – all those oh-oh-ohs or da-da-das – and sometimes, at the same time, they’re manoeuvring through the ensemble movement designed by director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall.
In Transit earlier attracted attention in an Off-Broadway version mounted in 2010. Credit for the book, lyrics and music is shared by a quartet of friends who met after college through an a cappella group.
They are Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth, and they along with two others, Karla Lant and Gregory T. Christopher, receive credit for ‘original concept’.
Of them all, Anderson-Lopez is the most prominent, having won an Academy Award for the signature song ‘Let It Go’ from Disney’s Frozen, which she wrote with her husband, Robert Lopez of Avenue Q and Book of Mormon fame.
The arrangements are by Deke Sharon, who was the vocal producer for the two Pitch Perfect movies, which helped fuel the current resurgence of a cappella.
However, the best part about In Transit is that eventually the awareness of the intricacies of a cappella slips into the background, and you can just sort of enjoy the indisputable talents of the cast; the storytelling (as superficial and determinedly upbeat as it is); and the songs themselves.
A lot of the lyrics are especially clever, often outshining the melodies which go from up-tempo chorus numbers to semi-soaring power ballads and excursions into rap.
Among the daisy chain of characters is Jane (Margo Seibert), an actor long yearning to make it to Broadway while supporting herself as a very capable temp office worker. Trent (Justin Guarini) is Jane’s agent, engaged to his boyfriend Steven (Telly Leung) but reluctant to tie the knot because his religious fundamentalist Mom in Texas is unaware of his sexuality.
A gal pal of Trent and Steven is Ali (Erin Mackey), a one-time medical student who dropped everything to follow her boyfriend to New York where he dumped her. Ali has a New Yorker brother, Nate (James Snyder), who recently lost his banking job and is out looking for a new one. Things come full circle when Nate meets up with – of all people – Jane.
Acting as a kind of confidant to these denizens of the city and the audience as well is Boxman (Chesney Snow at the performance attended; Steven ‘Heaven’ Cantor alternates), a subway musician with impressive beatbox skill, providing a lot of the percussive sounds that punctuate the music.
Also notable is Moya Angela, who delivers three very distinct personas with aplomb: Trent’s mother, Jane’s sympathetic boss, and a decidedly unhelpful subway clerk.
Donyale Werle’s set design is a sleek replica of a subway station with a treadmill running lengthwise through the centre of the elongated playing space, a three-quarter in the round design.
It works well in suggesting the movement of the subway trains and in bringing on various set pieces to create different locales. It also adds to the fluidity of Marshall’s brisk staging. Clint Ramos’ bright costumes amplify the happy mood.
Apart from it’s a cappella notoriety, In Transit is essentially one of those ‘love letter to New York’ musicals that crop up on Broadway every now and then.
It’s loaded with big city references as well as jibes at the subway that get chortles from locals and make tourists feel like they’re in the know. Even making an appearance (as a mechanised prop) is the pizza-toting rat who was such a sensation on You Tube.
Readers may also be interested in:
A Bronx Tale – Longacre Theatre, New York – Review