Book, Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, and Sara Wordsworth; Directed by Kathleen Marshall
Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 West 50th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 12.11.16
The cast of In Transit. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: Broadway’s first a cappella musical rocks!
This vibrant new Broadway musical conspicuously lacks one common ingredient: an orchestra. The entire show is performed a cappella; every note of melody and accompaniment is created by a human voice. Is it gimmicky? Who cares when it’s this satisfying. The beautiful voices of the 11-person ensemble blend perfectly to create such a full sound that you won’t miss instrumental accompaniment for a single minute. In addition to the gorgeous harmonies, audiences will be particularly wowed by the amazing beat-boxing and human sound effects performed by Chesney Snow or Steven “Heaven” Cantor, depending on the performance that you attend.
The characters are united by one commonality: their reliance on the New York City subway system. As they ride in pursuit of their hopes, dreams, and happiness they connect, collide, and form new bonds with one another. While the show is episodic in nature, the four-person writing team succeeds in making us care deeply for every single character. This is no small feat considering we never spend two consecutive scenes with any one character. I was especially amazed by my inclination to empathize with characters that bring conflict to the show like Momma, a deeply religious woman who cannot bring herself to accept her son’s sexual orientation; Althea, a disgruntled MTA employee who has no sympathy for passengers who can’t afford to pay for their ride; and Ms. Williams, a corporate employer who encourages her office temp to let her dreams of being a Broadway actress die. It’s worth noting that all three roles are played by the magnificent Moya Angela, who transforms herself completely for each role, creating three distinct characters who are of different ages and socio-economic backgrounds.
While Angela’s performance is particularly noteworthy, the other 10 actors in the show are no less impressive. Though it’s a relatively young cast for a Broadway show, it is made up of actors who have seen plenty of action on the Great White Way, including Justin Guarini of American Idol fame, Telly Leung of Allegiance and the revivals of Pacific Overtures and Flower Drum Song, and Margo Seibert ,who recreated the role of Adrian in the screen-to-stage transfer of Rocky. Incidentally, I ran into Seibert in the lobby after the show. She had spotted me in the third row and asked me if I was the one dancing in my seat. Indeed I was; I couldn’t help myself.
Donyale Werle’s excellent set design brings to life all of the exuberance of a subway platform with none of the unpleasantness and drudgery. The smartest element of her set is a conveyor belt that runs the length of the stage’s center plane and keeps subway seats and other furniture pieces moving on and off without service delays.
Veteran director Kathleen Marshall keeps the actors focused on their destinations which creates a constant, upbeat feel that they are always on the go. The result is a continual sense of flux that keeps the show safely away from stasis. Clint Ramos’s costumes are simultaneously vibrant enough for a Broadway musical, and realistically mundane for the average New Yorker’s commute. Ramos’s imagination shines however, when an actress sports a dress made exclusively of MetroCards.
In Transit has the opportunity to broaden the definition of a Broadway musical. This is my pick for the sleeper hit of the season. No matter how skeptical you are that an a cappella Broadway musical can work, this show will disarm your reluctance before the end of the first number, and have you tapping your toes to the very end.
(In Transit plays at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 West 50th Street, in an open-ended run. The running time is 1 hour 35 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7; Wednesdays at 2 and 8; Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $89 - $159 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200. For more information visit intransitbroadway.com.)
In Transit is by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, and Sara Wordsworth. Directed by Kathleen Marshall. A cappella Arrangements by Deke Sharon. Music Supervision by Rick Hip-Flores. Set Design is by Donyale Werle. Costume Design is by Clint Ramos. Lighting Design is by Donald Holder. Sound Design is by Ken Travis. Production Design is by Cate Hevner. Hair and Wig Design is by Cookie Jordan. Stage Manager is Kim Vernace.
The cast is David Abeles, Moya Angela, Steven "Heaven" Cantor, Justin Guarini, Telly Leung, Erin Mackey, Gerianne Perez, Margo Seibert, Chesney Snow, James Synyder, Mariand Torres, Nicholas Ward, Adam Bashian, Laurel Harris, Arbender Robinson, and Aurelia Williams.