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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Theatre For Thought, November 24, 2012

joel fishbane

Last month, while killing time in New York, I decided to get lost in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After taking the subway to 86th Street, I enjoyed a New York breakfast of street food and coffee on those iconic steps before heading inside to look the painting “Grey Weather” by Georges Seurat. Along the way, I plugged in my iPod and listened to the only musical worth listening to when you’re lost at the Met: Adam Gwon’s song cycle Ordinary Days.

“The Met’s the only place in New York City where the traffic patterns don’t make sense,” sings Deb, one of the four characters in this quirky musical about the crossroads of youth. The show is made up of two completely separate storylines, but the scene at the Met is one of the few times when all four characters manage to break into each other’s lives.  “The show is about how one small thing that one character does creates a domino effect on everyone else,” explains Kayla Gordon, who’s directing the Canadian premiere. “It’s a show about asking ‘what is my big picture? What am I doing with my life?’”

“I like the edgier musicals with real solid stories.”

Ordinary Days is a personal favourite of mine, so I was excited to see it was finally coming to Canada; I was equally pleased to see it being put in the capable hands of Kayla Gordon. With a background in performance and voice, Gordon teaches musical theatre at the University of Winnipeg and has helmed over fifty shows, many of which were the sort where characters tend to break into song. “What appeals to me now is the contemporary stuff,” she told me while on break from rehearsals. “I like the edgier musicals with real solid stories.”

For all her experience, the show is something of a first for Gordon, who admits she’s not usually drawn to song cycles. In the musical theatre world, a song cycle is a show that has no proper book; there may be a thin storyline connecting the songs but in most cases, it’s a fancy word for what used to be called a “revue” (technically Cats is a song cycle, though Andrew Lloyd Webber may disagree). In the case of Ordinary Days, though, the songs are more than just showpieces. The show is told almost entirely in song and covers two parallel stories that only truly intersect at the end. 

Thematically, the musical explores four 20-somethings at a turning point in their lives and even manages to work 9/11 into the plot while avoiding the perils of turning a quirky comedy into melodrama. The show is fairly cinematic and calls for simple, yet creative staging to move the characters swiftly from the Met to Times Square to the rooftops of New York. “That’s been challenging,” said Gordon. “But I love that kind of work. It takes a lot of work to be simple.”

We need musicals that draw in a younger audience

Gordon’s convinced that her team has found clever ways to deal with these challenges, but she wasn’t above asking for help from the source himself. Despite the fact that he’s become one of musical theatre’s rising hotshots, composer / lyricist Gwon proved more than happy to discuss the piece via email, providing insights and details about the creation of the show. “He’s a young guy,” Gordon laughed. “Very down to earth.” 

Gordon’s equally excited by the fact that Ordinary Days has appeal to the younger generation. “We need musicals that draw in a younger audience,” she said. “We really need to build on that audience if we want to keep theatre going in this world.” This is a driving force in Gordon’s work, which focuses on finding shows that both provides opportunities to Winnipeg artists and appeals to a new generation of theatre goers. 

Ordinary Days is a co-production with Winnipeg Studio Theatre and Toronto’s Angelwalk Theatre. Co-productions are becoming popular with the larger regionals and though it means twice the work – twice the emails, twice the publicity, twice the stress – Gordon was thrilled to share resources with Brian Goldenberg, Angelwalk’s Artistic Producer. “I’ve learned so much just from things they do,” she said. “He’s helping me with a new program for auditions. We have each other as mentors.”

Ordinary Days by Adam Gwon plays in Winnipeg at the Tom Hendry Warehouse until November 25. It premieres at the Toronto Centre for the Arts from November 29 to December 9. For tickets in Winnipeg visit; in Toronto, visit

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