New York City Theater
Circle in the Square
Once you get past the clever premise of “In Transit,” Broadway’s first a cappella musical (well, actually more revue), there’s not much else to care about. Certainly not the subway characters who are less interesting, less layered than your average fellow straphanger.
It’s not for want of trying. The slick production, affable cast, pleasant score, not to mention the swift, less-than-two-hours' traffic upon the stage, combine for a cheerful, though mindless evening.
Much takes place in a remarkably clean and friendly subway, from change booth to platforms, designed in detail by Donyale Werle. A treadmill on which furniture slides in and out bisects the stage.
A scruffy character named Boxman, wonderfully played by Chesney Snow, makes sounds that subway riders are familiar with: not just the trains themselves but indecipherable conductors’ announcements. Boxman also gives us bumper sticker advice: “Get rid of the routine, be yourself” and “Do what you like; the money will follow.”
Not all is underground, however. A gay couple visits one partner’s home, wondering if their forthcoming marriage will be accepted by his lover’s mother. A woman working as a temp auditions for stage roles. An out-of-work exec screws up getting through the turnstiles but hooks up with someone he keeps bumping into. His sister is almost felled by a broken relationship. The change booth attendant is properly caustic.
Characters only vaguely interact (one of the gay guys is the actress’ agent) and have only minor connections to the subway itself or its inhabitants, except as a conveyance to get from here to there. The idea is that, by the end, their in transit journeys have taken them someplace, proving that they have moved on. Since these are vignettes, however, we don’t learn much about the characters beyond the superficial and that the “city of love” has a never-ending energy.
Lots of hands went into “In Transit.” Book, music and lyrics are by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth, based on an original concept by them and Gregory T. Christopher and Karla Lant. Many songs are ingratiating: “Broke,” “Not There Yet,” “Choosing Not to Know,” the gospel “Keep it Goin’.” Same for the cast: Moya Angela, Arbender Robinson, James Snyder, Erin Mackey, Justin Guarini and Margo Seibert, having the major roles, make the most indelible impressions but all harmonize beautifully.
The blend of voices -- credit Deke Sharon’s vocal arrangements and Rick Hip-Flores’ music supervision – is a joyful noise indeed. Director and choreographer, Tony winner Kathleen Marshall, keeps everything going at a clip that almost papers over dramatic shortcomings. But “In Transit” never quite makes it into the station.
--David A. Rosenberg
Dec. 23, 2016