What could be better for the gays than musical theater? Über-musical theater!
That’s what I’m calling a musical that relies almost entirely on lyrics rather than dialogue, and that is what will be arriving at the Green Room at Short North Stage in late February.
Ordinary Days is a four-character musical, almost entirely sung, that seeks to discover meaning in life within New York City. Called “a quietly affecting show” by The New York Times, the über-musical is of course funny but also, as composer, playwright and fellow queer community member Adam Gwon says, “very honest.”
One of the four characters, a young gay man named Warren, is an aspiring artist working for a more established painter. During his work, Warren finds the notes to a dissertation on Virginia Woolf, lost by a young woman, which begins a path of discovery for him and the other characters.
But the musical doesn’t focus on Warren’s sexuality. Instead, his sexuality is just one facet of the character. For Gwon, “it became important to me that [Warren] being gay was not an issue for him or any other character in the show. That feels passé and uninteresting to me.”
It almost seems like a contradiction in terms: an über-musical with a gay protagonist who isn’t grappling with issues of sexuality. But it reflects how queer sexuality is becoming more accepted as one aspect of a person rather than a defining trait in society. “It’s entirely possible to be a gay person and, you know, not give a hoot,” affirms Gwon.
In addition to this change of focus, another level of complexity comes into play for Warren’s character. Each actor taking on the role gives a different interpretation of Warren. As an outsider who is a little obsessive and optimistic to a fault, his conflicts come from interactions with the other characters. Each stage version has a different way of presenting this outsider status, and this run will be no different.
Zack Steele, a musical theater major at Wright State, will be playing Warren at Short North Stage. Steele is no stranger to theater or musicals, having most recently performed in Funny Girl. His other credits include Godspell and Les Miserables.
With the premiere of Ordinary Days, Columbus’s artistic portfolio joins the ranks of Vienna, London’s West End and New York. The production started out at Pennsylvania Centre Stage in 2008 and has even gone as far as Australia.
Just as notable, Gwon will be in town for the preview and opening of the musical. “This will be my first time in Columbus!” he says. “I’ve been to Dayton (where Human Race Theatre Company did Ordinary Days).”
He knows a lot of people in New York who are originally from Ohio, so let’s hope our expatriates haven’t given him the wrong impression. Gwon linked up with Short North Stage through his work in Dayton and through his friend, Becca Shapiro, who is a board member at Short North. Shapiro and Gwon met when the two were living in New York.
How does Gwon create a musical hit? “I consider myself a songwriter rather than a playwright, so when I write songs, I just think, ‘Do your thing’ and when I write dialogue, I think, ‘Fake it!’”
Gwon is widely recognized as a rising young composer of American musical theater. He was recently named as one of the 50 to Watch by The Dramatist magazine. He won the 2008 Fred Ebb Award for excellence in musical theater and the 2011 Kleban Award in the lyricist category.
He also won the ASCAP Harold Harold Adamson award, the MAC John Wallowitch Award and commissions to write new musicals from the Signature Theatre, the South Coast Repertory and Broadway Across America. Other musicals include The Boy Detective Fails and Bernice Bobs Her Hair.
It’s important to Gwon that the songs serve the story and are part of the audience’s journey. He starts from the end and works his way backward, figuring out how the characters reach the finale through his songs.
This is the first musical that Gwon has written as well as composed, giving him more control over the direction of the musical. “Usually I leave that for a playwright,” he says. “Whether I’m collaborating or writing a whole show on my own, the larger story comes before the songs. I like to map out what’s going to happen in the show, and then decide what the songs should be and where they should go.”
Gwon actually started off performing before realizing his passion was for musical composition. “I started going on auditions for all kinds of things, theater and movies and TV shows.” After auditioning for less-than-stellar gigs, he realized “that maybe I should spend my time creating work I thought was worth creating,” rather than put up with the mediocre status quo.
He’s already lining up his next projects. Besides working on other shows for the stage, he is branching out into writing for a webseries, Submissions Only, alongside former Ordinary Days cast member Kate Wetherhead. The series pokes fun at the world of new musical theater, which Gwon says is a refreshing break.
To learn more about Adam Gwon, visit adamgwon.com. Ticket prices and show times for Ordinary Days can be found at shortnorthstage.org.