GCTC: Ordinary Days offers a musical antidote to twittering trolls

Katie Ryerson, Zach Counsil, Jennifer Cecil, and Gab Desmond appear in Ordinary Days at GCTC. Photo: Andrew Alexander

For Eric Coates, and possibly for Ottawa theatre-goers, Ordinary Days came along at just the right time.

Coates, who’s directing the musical by Adam Gwon when it opens at the Great Canadian Theatre Company Oct. 31, first saw a clip of the original production the night in November, 2016 when Donald Trump was elected.

“I was feeling pretty rough,” about the election results, says Coates who, as artistic director of GCTC, was planning his coming season.  When he saw the clip from the show about four young New Yorkers in search of themselves and meaningful connections, “I was smitten. Over the next couple of weeks, I started thinking deeply about our relationship with the States and how easy it is to see that only in negative terms. Then I saw this piece with beautiful things about the States and especially New York and I thought, ‘This is a good antidote.’

“This is a bleak time for the world, and we needed a tonic early in the season.”

That the show is an affordable one involving just four performers and a pianist didn’t hurt, adds Coates.

Ordinary Days, which premiered in 2008, is a sung-through musical with just a few lines of spoken text. That makes its structure different from regular musicals like The Book of Mormon or West Side Story and closer to Onegin, which opened the current English Theatre season at the National Arts Centre.

The show has challenges for a director, says Coates. For example, the vast majority of the songs are internal monologues, so keeping the performance physically dynamic and not like a concert is “interesting,” says Coates.

The 75-minute show also requires nearly every song to take place in a different part of New York. It will be intriguing to see how Coates and set/lighting designer Seth Gerry handle that.

Coates, who studied piano as a youngster and still plays guitar for pleasure, did direct a handful of traditional “jukebox” musicals when he was artistic director of Blyth Festival near Stratford, Ontario, before taking up his GCTC post in 2012.

The songs in Ordinary Days are reminiscent of the work of Stephen Sondheim although not as complex, he says. “They verge toward Sondheim then revert to a voice and chorus structure.”

While GCTC opened its first season at its current location in the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre with a musical, The Man from the Capital, back in 2007, the company is not exactly a hotbed of the genre. However, it’s not unlike other companies in now looking at contemporary musicals like Ordinary Days.

“We’re recognizing as an industry that the tastes of the buying public ebb and flow,” says Coates. “But for musicals, there is constant support.”

As the second show of the current season at GCTC, Ordinary Days is also the second to focus on the lives of younger people. With entertainment options continuing to proliferate and an aging population, it’s more important than ever for theatre companies to attract younger audiences.

It’s too early in the season to know whether GCTC is succeeding in doing that, says Coates, but “anecdotally, I’m observing a little less grey hair.”

Ordinary Days is at GCTC Oct. 31-Nov. 19 (previews. Oct. 31 & Nov. 1; opening night, Nov. 2). Tickets: gctc.ca

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Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.