By Stanford Friedman
After attending In Transit, a perky musical about young lovers and their MetroCards, I left the theater humming a catchy tune. Unfortunately, that tune was Stephen Sondheim’s “Another 100 People” from his 1970 masterpiece, Company. The plot of this new vehicle is essentially contained in that classic ditty: New Yorkers get off of the train and “find each other in the crowded streets.” But In Transit makes no attempt to match the cleverness or capture the ironic loneliness expressed by Sondheim. It is a happy go lucky Big Apple romp where folks manage to run into each other a lot, the guy gets the girl, another guy gets the guy, and Pizza Rat gets the pizza.
It is fitting that one of the cast members is a former American Idol star and another had a recurring role in Glee. This is a production which feels very much like a singing sit-com that could fit nicely in the FOX Tuesday evening line up. The voices are pleasant, the characters and their situations are highly familiar without being totally cliché, nothing overly depressing happens and the Manhattan subway system looks like it was shot in Toronto. There is Trent (Idol’s Justin Guarini) and his soon to be husband Steven (Glee’s Telly Leung) who have to deal with telling Trent’s Christian momma (Moya Angela) the news. There is the recently dumped Ali (Erin Mackey) who attempts to compensate for her loss by jogging. There is Jane (Margo Seibert), an aspiring actress who somehow has an amazing agent, but who is otherwise unsatisfied by her temp job and her love life until she meets Nate (James Snyder) who has employment and relationship issues of his own. Fifteen songs, 100 minutes and several supporting characters later, all is right with the world.
In Transit markets itself as Broadway’s first a cappella musical, and it’s a successful gimmick thanks to a creative team that includes Deke Sharon who was the vocal producer for the Pitch Perfect movies and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the co-creator of Disney’s Frozen, and the songwriter behind “Let it Go.” In lieu of a rhythm section we have a human boombox character named Boxman (Steven “HeaveN” Cantor or Chesney Snow) who lays down the beat and provides varietal subway-related sound effects. Everyone else stays busy as back-up singers for each other’s harmony-fueled numbers. Kathleen Marshall’s choreography takes it easy on the performers, lest they be too out of breath to warble.
To be fair to Messrs. Guarini and Leung, they both hold serious Broadway creds in addition to their TV work and they are both in fine voice in one of the night’s best songs, “Four Days Home,” as they fly out to Texas to experience Trent’s family. But Ms. Seibert is the evening’s standout. Hopefully her Jane has a monthly MetroCard because she is everywhere at once. She beautifully handles the show’s deepest song, “Getting There” and plays straight man to her day-job boss Ms. Williams (Moya Angela) in the funniest piece, “A Little Friendly Advice.” It’s an anthem about surrendering your aspirations, with lyrics like, “Give up on your dream/You’ll be awfully glad ya did!” In yet a third role, Moya Angela plays a fare booth clerk named Althea. She presides over an MTA inspired scenic design by Donyale Werle that misses the mark. It is both dingy without being as claustrophobic as it should be, and abstract without being as fantastical as it could be. There is some clever projection design that comes to the rescue but the simulated train movement comes via a lengthy treadmill that has no spark.
In Transit – Book, music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth. Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall.
WITH: David Abeles (Dave), Moya Angela (Ms. Williams, Momma, Althea), Steven “HeaveN” Cantor (Boxman), Justin Guarini (Trent), Telly Leung (Steven), Erin Mackey (Ali), Gerianne Pérez (Kathy) , Margo Seibert (Jane), Chesney Snow (Boxman), James Snyder (Nate), Mariand Torres (Nina), Nicholas Ward (Chris),
Music supervision by Rick Hip-Flores. Vocal arrangements by Deke Sharon. Scenic design by Donyale Werle. Costume design by Clint Ramos. Lighting design by Donald Holder. Sound design by Ken Travis. Projection design by Caite Hevner. Hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan, Kim Vernace, Production Stage Manager. At the Circle in the Square, 235 W 50th St., 212-239-6200, http://www.intransitbroadway.com. Runtime 1 hour 40 min.