How to pinpoint the most exquisite moment of the excellent and moving "Ordinary Days" from the Organic Theater Factory at The Voice Shop? There's so much in this spare, nimble and intimate musical about four New Yorkers grappling with life in the city to contend for that honor.
It could be the part when Dominic Grijalva, playing a relentlessly sunny artist named Warren, lets his optimism brim over the day he meets a new friend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (Grijalva sports an expression on his face somewhere between cloyingly naive and wisely philosophical.) Or it could be when Terry Lewis, playing a love-struck suitor named Jason who can't quite bring himself to declare his love for his live-in girlfriend, sings of his "Favorite Places" in the city. (Lewis' tender high tenor lines ache with frustration.)
Another candidate for triumphant moment: when the wonderful Taylor Abels, portraying an acerbic and self-involved graduate student named Deb, has a mini-breakdown and longs for an antidote to Manhattan's chaos in the song "Calm." (Abels hits musical-theater heights in the solo, immersing us in her character's woes and wishes as she conveys the narrative as a master storyteller, all while belting it out in gorgeous voice.)
And then there's Ashley Taylor as the skittish and ambivalent Claire, unsure of her love for Jason, who has a breakdown of her own in the powerhouse song "Gotta Get Out," delivered in a fit of angst in the back of a taxi. ("I don't know where to," she says when the driver asks her destination. "You're the professional. You should be making these kinds of decisions!") As Laurie King, the production's nuanced and skilled accompanist, pounds out the chords in the chorus of the song, it's as if you can feel the rush and squeal of the taxi on rain-slicked streets.
But I'll have to go with the most obvious moment: Taylor singing the beautiful penultimate song "I'll Be Here," the musical's emotional high point. Tears were streaming, and not just on stage.
"Ordinary Days" is as much about tone and emotion as it is narrative, and the beginning of the show might be a challenge for audience members who aren't used to small chamber musicals.
I wish the director could have figured out a way to make those opening-song monologues a little less passive. Too often it seems they're delivered with feet planted firmly in one place.
Once we meet the characters, there's less direct singing to the audience. As the characters interact with each other, director Anthony Taylor finds creative ways to stage them.
Again, how all four of these characters wind up being connected is a big part of the show's impact and charm. Adding to the charm of the performance is the intimate setting, with the front row of seats mere feet away from the actors.
Life is pretty special. Sometimes it's easy to forget that. Every single day you're alive is a gift. What "Ordinary Days" does is wrap that gift in song.
And there's absolutely nothing ordinary about that.
Read a full review of "Ordinary Days" at fresnobeehive.com
"Ordinary Days," through Saturday, The Voice Shop, 1296 N. Wishon Ave. otffresno.com. $14.50 in advance, $17 at door.