I first ran into this musical which deals with the lives of several New York subway commuters in 2010 when it first bounced into town onstage at the 59 East 59th Street Theatre off/Broadway. It was a small musical then, housing a cast of seven men and women who were so busy “getting there” that they hardly noticed that life was passing them by. It enjoyed critical and audience acclaim, but it disappeared after its initial run of a month. Now it’s back, on Broadway this time, at the Circle in the Square’s eliptically shaped theatre on West 50th Street.
I reviewed the first production in October 2010 and called it “a pleasant evening out.” Its cast of seven has been enlarged to nine, with an ensemble added to understudy and to bring the company up to sixteen. Only Chesney Snow has been retained from the original cast, for tempus did indeed fugit, and the other six performers have been replaced by a new crop of younger talents. Roles have been expanded, songs have been added, and Kathleen Marshall has taken over the directorial reins from Joe Calarco. A new look has transformed the set design (now by Donyale Werle) into a sleek subway station and platform, complete with a treadmill that allows actors to arrive and depart as effortlessly as a subway car leaving a station. Two staircases now create two levels, one involving a toll booth, the other the subway tracks below. The musical has grown into a full blown Broadway show featuring a score of fifteen numbers which illuminates the delightful bunch of characters who have been picked to represent their generation of Thirtysomethings, who pack the subways each morning on their way to shake things up, to make things happen.
The current cast’s one holdover from 2010 is Chesney Snow as someone called “Boxman,” who serves as guide and narrator. He begins the evening with a remarkable demonstration of sounds emanating from his mouth, his nose, his hands, his head — sounds that allow the show to be sung a capella all evening for along with the occasional harmonizing done by other actors, the many musical numbers are very easy on the ears.
There is a book to this musical, but it serves only as a footbridge here and there to connect the fifteen songs so a cohesive story can be told. It is fashioned from the seemingly unrelated stories of each one out to try to achieve success, either in business, romance, a career, self worth or a challenging parental relationship.
A most appealing ensemble has been gathered to handle the perfectly marvelous book, music, and lyrics supplied by the quartet of writers who choose to bill themselves as joint authors of all those components. They have given us the most literate, incisive, and fun lyrics we’ve had since the great days of Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Fields, Oscar Hammerstein, Fred Ebb, Sheldon Harnick, Alan Lerner, and yes, even Noël Coward, and the unique Stephen Sondheim himself. The music sounds right for now; it’s accessible and it soars to allow for big finishes when needed.
Margo Seibert, playing “Jane” a committed, aspiring, but unsuccessful actress who pays her bills by working as an office temp, is marvelous as a very appealing and realistic “would be” who makes a choice that changes her life. Helping her with a lovely performance is James Snyder as a man she meets by chance and whom she almost loses because of a nasty trick of fate. Understudy Arbender Robinson (subbing for Telly Leung) did fine work as one half of a gay couple who are coping with the mother of one of them. Again, with Justin Guardini as his partner, they make much of their fine duet “We Are Home,” and they play their well-written scenes beautifully as well.
Moya Angela is of the Sophie Tucker school, and she takes the stage when one of the characters she plays belts “A Little Friendly Advice.” She also lands a lot of laughs as Althea, a most colorful toll booth attendant. When needed, some actors play multiple roles, and all join the ensemble to lend size and sound to the production numbers which Ms. Marshall has staged with brio and imagination. The rousing finale wrap-up is glorious, and quite rightly inspires a roar of approval that made the rafters ring.
What was once a charming mouse of a show has been turned into a ‘mouse that roars,’ and I think it will appeal to all who’ve ever dreamed a dream, for it makes possible a rewarding musical even when it becomes a dream deferred. Musicals once upon a time aspired to be lighthearted entertainment, aimed at the tired business man and his willing wife or companion. If they managed a one-season run, they were considered hits. Nowadays with several shows playing in their second decades and counting, “hit” needs to be redefined.
With The Great Comet of 1812, A Bronx Tale, Dear Evan Hansen and now In Transit following each other in quick succession, the musical theatre has solidified its new position in New York Theatre. It can still touch us, make us laugh, make us reflect, and most interestingly, have something on its mind about the human condition.
Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.
In Transit is playing at Circle In The Square Theatre – 235 West 50th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets, purchase them at the box office, call (212)239-6200, or (800) 447-7400, or purchase them online.