Review: ‘In Transit’ at Circle in the Square Theatre

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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.

The cast of ‘In Transit.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

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Chesney Snow has been retained from the original cast, for tempus did indeed fugit, and the other six performers have been replaced by a  new crop of younger talents.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 (Jane) and James Snyder (Nate). Photo by Joan Marcus.

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.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks so much for this wonderful review. I always enjoy reading Mr Seff’s reviews, comments, and reflections very much. The info here will give me a great road map for what to see in NYC during my upcoming visit.

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