Going “Deep Beneath the City” may be something no New Yorker truly cares for, but the intro track for In Transit sets the stage for the comical ode to New York City’s subway system. The a capella musical opened on December 11, bringing the best and worst of the subway to Broadway’s Circle in the Square. As a tribute to New York and its denizens, Broadway’s a capella debut may not be the most tourist-friendly show but it fits right in with the city’s tempestuous nature.
Directed by Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes, Nice Work If You Can Get It), co-written by “Let It Go” writer Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), and arranged by Deke Sharon (Pitch Perfect), In Transit hits all the right notes for a musical. There are all of the typical Broadway tropes—uplifting songs, ballads of emotional distress, duets about finding a place in the world, etc.—and the showtunes incorporate everything from beatboxing to the blues, all with a nice tinge of New York City cynicism. The plot is filled with first world problems relating to breakups, Replying All on a work email, magical run ins with The One, and a sense of antipathy for everything Not New York. For In Transit, there’s no middle ground: You’re either part of New York, or you’re against it. Being part of it may suck, but it’s better to be “an actor, or actress, or whatever” in New York rather than out of it.
As it happened, the actors were more than “just whatever” as they performed Broadway’s first a capella musical. Considering that every note, melody, and harmony came from a human mouth, foregoing the normal orchestral accompaniment, In Transit was a phenomenal show of artistry. The most memorable performance came from none other than the show’s philosophical subway performer Boxman, played by Chesney Snow (Steven “Heaven” Cantor has co-billing as the two actors switch off performances). Contrary to the irritant most New Yorkers find musicians on the train platforms, Boxman’s role as the show’s primary vocal percussionist and subway announcement translator provided rhythm and guardian angel-style guidance to the characters as they sung about the hardships relating to careers, romance, and financial woes. In Transit may be cynical, but its soaring, genre-blending showtunes were a pleasure to listen to, even when the lyrics were just grandiose complaints put to music.
The plot revolves primarily around Jane (Margo Seibert, who gives a phenomenal performance as a woman torn between her dreams and financial security), an aspiring Broadway actress who gets passed over in favor of big name stars, the recently-fired finance guy Nate (James Snyder), his sister Ali (Erin Mackey) who uses running to flee from facing her career and relationship issues, and Trent (Justin Guarini) and Steven (Telly Leung), an engaged couple dealing with Trent’s devoutly religious mother who is in denial about her son’s sexual orientation. Moya Angela excels at playing three different roles, and brings some of the shows most familiar, New York subway moments as the grumpy subway worker Althea who uses her power over metrocards to her own bemusement.
Fittingly, nearly the entire show took place in the subway and New York City businesses, although Steven and Trent made a quick excursion to Texas that featured the state as a mecca for Duck Dynasty lovers. The centric theater, which placed the action amidst the audience, provided an optimal venue for an a capella performance and enabled the performers more mobility than the average Broadway show. The stage was flanked by staircases and turnstiles, while a conveyor belt down the middle served as a subway track. It also enabled some quick stage changes of the show, with props and characters arriving and leaving stage through doors at either end of the conveyor belt.
In Transit’s tongue-in-cheek take on New Yorkers and the time they spend on the subway, which roughly adds up to a month each year according, is a comedic musical that hits home on New Yorkers biggest everyday problems. The show’s relatableness probably drops for viewers who weren’t raised around New York City, where it’s practically a religion to hate the subway that we utilize practically every day of our lives. But even if you can’t relate, the unique a capella approach to a musical is a pleasure to see performed live.
Director and Choreographer: Kathleen Marshall
Book, Music, Lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, and Sara Wordsworth
Vocal Arrangements: Deke Sharon
Starring: Margo Seibert, James Snyder, Erin Mackey, Justin Guarini, Telly Leung, Moya Angela, David Abeles, Chesney Snow, and Steven Cantor
Tamar Herman is a NYC-based pop culture writer who has been featured by Billboard, NBC News, the Village Voice, and numerous other outlets. She can most easily be reached on Twitter @tamar__herman.