If Love Actually were a musical set in the New York City subway system (and minus the Maroon 5), the result would come pretty close to Broadway’s In Transit.
The new entry, touted as “Broadway’s first a cappella musical,” features a series of characters and stories that occasionally intersect and superficially connect. Jane (Margo Seibert) is a thirtysomething aspiring actress temping in an office and going to auditions on her lunch break; Ali (Erin Mackey) is a newly single runner; Nate (James Snyder) is broke after losing his high-paying job; and Trent (Justin Guarini) and Steven (Telly Leung) are getting ready to get married — if only Trent would come out to his born-again Christian mother. And then there’s Boxman, played by Chesney Snow, the conductor of this train in every sense. The beatboxer kept the story going, the heart pumping, and the drums ticking. He is also the show’s biggest wow factor, kicking it off with a solo that sets the tone for the mouth-instruments musical and then makes you crave another one (it comes much later, though it’s not used quite as effectively).
The set uses the Circle in the Square theater to optimal effect, creating a subway station surrounded by seats with a long and useful treadmill down the center. Most scenes happen in the station — where Boxman is set up and sees all — or in a subway car. Sure, that keeps the story on the tracks… which isn’t exactly where anyone would want to have some of the important conversations that wind up happening there in order to stay on theme.
Comedy also abounds, and the jokes are plentiful, even if they don’t all land. Sure, everyone gets the pizza rat quip — that video went viral around the world — but are non-New Yorkers going to appreciate references to Dr. Zizmor, manspreading, or the dreaded empty car? The laughter for these was sparse, making it clear who in the audience was a tourist and who were the locals. Some of the more well-known pop culture references, including name-checking Lin-Manuel Miranda, Pippa Middleton, and Duck Dynasty, elicited a stronger reaction.
Ultimately, it’s the talented cast that makes this a pleasant commute. Broadway vets Seibert (Rocky), Snyder (If/Then, Cry-Baby), and Mackey (Anything Goes, Wicked) are undeniably solid, and American Idol season 1 runner-up Guarini and former Glee Warbler Leung are sweet together, if not quite packing the emotional punch they intend. Moya Angela plays three different roles — Trent’s mother, Jane’s boss, and station attendant Althea — yet still manages to make an impact (and not just because she looks stellar in a showstopping dress made of subway passes).
There’s no question In Transit has the ideal backstage pedigree for the project. Among the team behind the book, music, and lyrics was Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who wrote songs for Disney’s Frozen and picked up an Oscar for “Let It Go,” as well as Pitch Perfect‘s vocal arranger, Deke Sharon. But ultimately, the a cappella trope wore on me by the end. Seibert and Mackey each had big final numbers they could undoubtedly nail, but they fell a little flat when backed by oohs and ahs. Perhaps the songs deserved a more soaring composition.
In Transit arrives at its Broadway station safely and soundly, but misses the emotional connection needed to make it an express hit. B-