“There is a difference between repertory and repetitious.” This tag line encapsulates Utah Repertory Theater Company‘s mission statement which is again personified by the scope the 2015 season. Utah Rep’s latest offering is Ordinary Days, an off-broadway gem that is best known for the heart-wrenching song “I’ll Be Here”. The story is set in New York City and features four likable characters who intertwine in both ordinary and inexplicable ways through song and vignette. Enriching the regional premiere is a talkback and reception with the show’s composer and lyricist, Adam Gwon, following the July 10 opening night performance. Mr. Gwon will also hold a master class musical theatre workshop on Saturday, July 11 at 10am.
Here, cast member Mandi Barrus (Claire) and director Chase Ramsey discuss the process and what the message of the show means to them.
What attracted you to Ordinary Days?
Although I had done a lot of homework and read through it around fifteen times prior to stepping into the rehearsal room, I realized that as we got it on its feet that it was much more simple than I had first thought. The themes made me assume it was a complex piece, but the beauty and mastery is in the simple and clear way that everything comes off the page. The four actors are absolutely stunning and have surprised me in many ways. Our music director, Jeanne McGuire
, is truly one of the best. Her work will be highlighted on the stage each performance.
BARRUS: Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with the music until I saw the audition notice. I looked up one of the songs on YouTube, and couldn’t stop listening to all of the music. I was hooked. I knew then and there that I just had to be part of the project.
What makes this piece relevant now?
RAMSEY: Many times a director’s job is to focus on telling a story in a way that is relevant to this time, place, and community, and rightly so. What is special about Adam Gwon’s writing comes from its ability to span a wide range of audience. This is rare. Adam uses four ordinary people in New York City to share with us the moments we might miss during an ordinary day. He shows us that searching for a “Big Picture” is irrelevant because our “Big Picture” is already here, right now, in this “Ordinary Day”. I believe (the piece) will always be relevant.
The music is primarily made up of “story songs” (songs that communicate large amounts of information and character-like dialogue). What are some of the benefits and challenges of working with this format versus traditional musical theatre or plays?
I am a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim
, who is famous for his finely-crafted story songs. When I heard Adam Gwon’s work, I heard a fresh voice in the story-song genre. As a classically trained singer, I find the songs I enjoy singing most are ones that are like monologues, that are almost aria-like. Gwon has created these honest, emotional journeys in music. It’s really fulfilling for me, as an actor and singer, to perform this type of song.
What aspect of Ordinary Days do you find most true to life or mirroring some of your own experiences?
BARRUS: I can definitely relate to Claire. She has experienced tragedy in her life, as have I. I lost my first true love to an accidental death, and even though we had already parted ways before he died, his passing had a profound effect on me. I’ll always remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news that he was gone. Like Claire, I was cleaning out some boxes recently and found a book he had given me when we were together. I couldn’t let it go, it’s still in my purse actually. It’s been five years since his death, and I’d like to think that going through that experience has helped me treasure the time I have with my wonderful husband and family. When I sing “I’ll Be Here”, I’m definitely thinking of these two relationships that have been life-changing for me: my first love, Michael, and my love for a lifetime, Brandon.
“I’ll be here” is the best known song from the piece. Though it is about loss through a great tragedy, it resonates with people for many reasons. How does it resonate with you? Why?
RAMSEY: It’s a beautiful song. The first time I listened to it I was standing in a hot and packed cable car in San Francisco… it hit me like a ton of bricks. What a lot of people don’t often see is the journey Claire takes to get to that song. What we don’t see is that Claire is actually, for the first time, opening up and letting go. The song has since become a personal reminder to knock down the walls in front of me and share myself with those I love. The beauty of the song comes from its universal reach. We all hear it differently.
BARRUS: I feel like “I’ll Be Here” helps me realize that there is balance in all things. It is possible to honor our past, yet live in the present, life doesn’t have to mean either/or.
How does knowing Mr. Gwon will see the production impact your process?
RAMSEY: I don’t know if it could impact much. The actors will still provide their honest version of the show. I thought it might impact our translation of Adam Gwon’s words, but instead it has made us more aware of the importance of following our own. I don’t know how to see things through Adam Gwon’s eyes, but I can see through mine and do my best to share his words in the most honest way possible.
If you could capture the essence of Ordinary Days with a tagline, what would it be?
BARRUS: “Beautiful takes a person who makes a connection”
Utah Repertory Theater Company’s production of Ordinary Days
will play July 10- 26, 2015 at the Sugar Space Studio Theatre located at 616 Wilmington Avenue in Sugar House. Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. Tickets are $18 general admission and $16 for seniors and students with the exception of a “Pay as you may” performance July 19 and a $10 matinee on July 26. Tickets for the master class with Adam Gwon July 11 are $10. More information and tickets are available at utahrep.org