- By gentleguide
- On Fri 11 jan 2019
Whenever anyone over the last few months has asked me what “can’t miss” show is coming up, my reply has been “You HAVE to see Ordinary Days!” This year’s Dream Project production from Tallgrass Theatre Company is one of the best musicals most people have never heard of. And with a stellar cast and production team, there’s absolutely nothing ordinary about Ordinary Days.
Tallgrass Theatre started their Dream Project a number of years ago, basically asking various performers or other theatre personnel about what shows the group should create. Tallgrass fields requests each season to present shows that otherwise might not get produced in the area. This year, local theatre artists Charlie Reese and Megan Helmers put forth the small cast musical Ordinary Days, and it was chosen with Reese as the lead actor and Helmers as the director/choreographer.
“Ordinary Days has been in the back of my mind since I first heard it in 2010 after the Off-Broadway album was released,” says Reese. “Ordinary Days is a beautiful story of relationships and connections in a world of individuality. In today’s environment it feels natural to keep yourself in a ‘comfortable spot’ and never venture outside of what you’re used to experiencing. This show is relevant right now because it feels like more and more we live in a world of convenience, with many people choosing to stick to what feels comfortable instead of experiencing something different. The show explores what it feels like to connect in new ways and looking at life from a different lens.”
“Each song tells such a full and vibrant story that you can connect with it immediately,” says Helmers, “even if you haven’t seen the show and don’t know anything about the plot. Charlie and I have sung one of the songs, Fine, a handful of times at cabarets over the last few years, and many of the other songs, like I’ll Be Here, are perennial favorites when it comes to both auditions and cabaret performances.”
Ordinary Days has been described as ‘an intimate musical about the most populated city in America.’ Presented in the cozy confines of the Rex Mathes Auditorium in West Des Moines, the actual listed cast for Ordinary Days is only four people. It’s all about how individuals feel alone even when they’re surrounded by others, and the necessity of reaching out and connecting with those other lonely individuals out there, no matter what. Helmers looks forward to this one.
“I truly love the intimacy of small-cast musicals” enthused Helmers. “A few years ago, I directed and choreographed two musicals in Noce (Murder Ballad and Tick… Tick… Boom!), and that experience working in a small space with immersive staging had a real impact on the way I scale my work. In an intimate venue like Rex Mathes, the audience feels an immediate connection with the characters. That’s really ideal for a musical like Ordinary Days in which a key theme is connection.”
Taylor Anne Weaver gets to connect with her character of Claire. As Weaver puts it “I think that this show can be relatable to anyone, because even though the characters are living in a specific geographic location (New York City), the human experience is the human experience. We all want to find a place to belong and to connect with other humans. We may each have our individual Life Story, but at the heart of it, everyone is searching for purpose and connection, and I think that is what this story is really about.”
Sydney Allen plays Deb, and loves the fact that the character is so layered. “I’ve never been cast in a role such as this, and have been challenged to take this character further and further because she’s larger than life. I think I relate to Deb because I too can get myself worked up and doubt myself like she often does. She’s her worst enemy at times when it comes to her abilities and being confident in making choices that aren’t for anybody else but her. I’m sure my mother would disagree if I said I wasn’t as dramatic as Deb, so I think we can say I like to over-dramatize certain things too.”
Allen’s favorite character in Ordinary Days is actually her scene partner, Warren (played by Keaton Lane). “He’s so innocent and pure, and shows Deb that there is more to life than what she’s been so wrapped up in. I think we all can stand to take a second and just observe and appreciate the little things in life. I encourage all of the audience members to at points in the show, because it’s mostly music to just listen to the lyrics. Especially Warren’s...there is some great advice in there.”
Lane is excited about his opportunity as Warren, because he gets to be someone different from himself. “I tend to be more of a realist and sometimes even pessimistic, but he is so positive and open, and he really sees the best in people. I think what’s great about this show is that each of the characters is really relatable. They all are feeling kind of stuck, and are trying to figure out how to move forward.”
Helmers had a challenging task in casting only three available parts, especially with the large and talented group that had originally shown up for auditions. But when you’re doing ‘an intimate musical about the most populated city in America’ you want to find a way to use all that talent.
“Several weeks into the rehearsal process, I had an idea. There are so many songs and lyrics which refer to crowds of people, but we only had four in our cast, and usually only two onstage at a time. I decided to create a "movement ensemble" who would executive some minimal choreography, adding to the richness of the stage pictures while also taking care of some practical things like moving set pieces. So, I went back to our audition forms and contacted those who had indicated they were willing to volunteer backstage if they weren't cast. Luckily, we'd had such a great group of actors at auditions -- there was my ensemble!”
“I'm so impressed with the work this cast is doing. They've dug in and are providing truly thoughtful, caring interpretations of their characters while still being true to the humor and humanity inherent in the show. I truly enjoy watching them every night, and I know the audience is going to be blown away by their talent and their work on this show.”
Ordinary Days opens on January 18 as this year’s Dream Project for Tallgrass Theatre Company. It runs for three weekends, with shows on Friday and Saturday evenings, plus an extra last Sunday matinee closing on February 3. Performances are at the Rex Mathes Auditorium, located in West Des Moines in Stillwell Junior High (1401 Vine Street). Tickets are available through the Tallgrass Theatre Company website or at the door (but get them early, Tallgrass has been known to sell out shows and Ordinary Days is one you don’t want to miss!!)