If “Swipe Again” messages and surly token clerks have taken their toll on your daily commute, perhaps an elixir can be found at the Circle in the Square Theatre, where “In Transit,” an all-a capella, electronically amplified musical, has just pulled into the station.
“In Transit” takes that most harped-on of artistic cliches—it’s the journey, not the destination—and builds it out, with a superior cast and some catchy music.
The solid behind-the-scenes pedigree includes Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the Oscar winner for “Let It Go,” from “Frozen,” as one among a foursome of writers. Deke Sharon, who prepared arrangements for the “Pitch Perfect” films, has similar duties here. Three-time Tony winner Kathleen Marshall (“Nice Work …”) directs.
The story, a series of vignettes, focuses on 11 New Yorkers whose lives, in assorted stages of dishevelment, occasionally intersect, either in a station or on moving cars. The narrator is a mellow fella named Boxman, apparently living off the residuals from past success with a “Dr. Pepper” commercial.
Steven “Heaven” Cantor, alternating with Chesney Snow, has beatboxing duties and is a winning shepherd for the evening’s affairs: “Attention passengers: due to scheduled weekend service changes, all Expresses are running local, all Locals are running express, the A is the B, the 2 is the 3, and the Q is a bus.”
Been there, right?
Eventually, “In Transit” becomes a showcase for the talents of a duo perhaps overshadowed in their last major outings: Margo Seibert (Adrian in 2014’s “Rocky” musical) is Jane, an office-temp and wannabe actress; her love interest is Nate (James Snyder of “If/Then”), unemployed after an unfortunate “Reply All” misstep.
Some of the story lines played out unpredictably, zigging when I expected them to zag, in the best of ways. At other times, “In Transit” settled into overly worn devices.
Initially, I cringed when I saw that gay couple Trent (Justin Guarini) and Steven (Telly Leung of “Allegiance”) would have difficulty planning their wedding, because Texas-raised Trent was unwilling to tell his mother he’s gay. But a bittersweet twist to the thread played out as both sincere and, I dare say, brave.
There are distinguished contributions from Moya Angela in multiple roles, none more entertaining than a disinterested token clerk who seems a permanent obstacle to down-on-his-luck Nate. Erin Mackey is sweet as a peach as Ali, who is trying to get over a breakup but can’t stop texting her ex.
The song “A Little Friendly Advice,” which has the workers at Jane’s temp office encouraging her to forget about a career on stage, has both the jubilance and unconventional wisdom of a number from “Avenue Q” (co-created by Ms. Lopez’s husband).
The musical offers insider nods to the average Manhattanite, in the form of jokes about an apprehensiveness toward buses, and a cameo by a celebrated pizza-loving denizen of the underground.
Donyale Werle’s two-tiered set is a fanciful subway station with authentic-seeming MTA signage, if no basis in reality—if there is a stop where the G, R, N, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 converge, please, somebody text me ASAP—and a conveyor belt that works effectively in the theater’s shape.
“In Transit” manages to create a reality-distortion field that left me feeling the MTA isn’t the hostile environment I know it all too well to be. For that alone, go ahead and swipe your MetroCard.
Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn
“In Transit,” at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St. Tickets, $89-$159, on sale through June 25, 2017. Call 212-239-6200.