Theatergoers who turn pale at the thought of a musical performed a cappella can breathe easy at”In Transit,” an unconventional, unorthodox and unassuming new Off Broadway musical that should increase subway ridership to East 59th. This seven-person, zero-musician musical is a charming slice-of-life beneath city streets, and considering the evening’s high likability rating and relatively low budget — a fully satisfying show with live music but no musician costs — this is a likely prospect to transfer.
The piece follows an episodic, revue-like path, with four of the three-dozen characters ultimately intertwining. Jane (Denise Summerford) is an aspiring actress stuck working as a temp and on the edge of giving up her dream; Nate (Graham Stevens) is a terminated Wall Street banker desperate for and unable to find a real-world job. Both are so likable — as characters and performers — that the audience is happy for them to find each other.
Trent (Tommar Wilson) is a transplanted Texan who can’t tell Momma about his live-in boyfriend; Ali (Hannah Laird) is his ex-roommate, who herself has just been dumped by her boyfriend. They seem to link, too.
These events are overseen by Boxman (Chesney Snow), an authentic street entertainer — or rather, subway entertainer; he uses a hand mic to create an evening’s worth of sound effects, including what seems like an authentic snare drum-and-cymbal.
The four authors — Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth — started writing the material for their a cappella group 10 years ago. An early version of the show, “Along the Way,” appeared at the New York Fringe Festival in 2003, and further development continued at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in 2008, where that group’s chairman of the board Tom Viertel signed on. The Primary Stages program cites 10 commercial producers on the title page, led by the Baruch/Viertel/Routh/Frankel Group.
Director Joe Calarco (“The Burnt Part Boys”) has done a fine job of staging the show, a tricky task given the necessity of keeping the backup actors — the vocal accompaniment to any given song — moving along with the principals in each scene. Calarco also highlights the humor.
The evening’s unsung hero is musical director Mary-Mitchell Campbell (of Patti LuPone’s “Sweeney Todd” and Nathan Lane’s “The Addams Family”). The six voices plus Snow’s prodigious percussive effects meld together so well that one quickly grows accustomed to this 90 minutes’ worth of a cappella.
Primary Stages has provided a handsome if low-key production, featuring a canny and clever set by Anna Louizos (“In the Heights”). Costumes by Jennifer Caprio add to the effect, especially a dress worn by belter Celisse Henderson, which is constructed of Metrocards.