Snowing on a Broadway opening is generally considered a good omen. Just look at the wonders it worked for the original production of Les Misérables—and that was mid-March. “From your lips to God’s ears,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez said with a smile.
Snow or no snow, Anderson-Lopez felt blissed out about finally getting to Broadway with In Transit, the first a cappella musical on the Great White Way. “Today felt like my wedding. I have so many friends here tonight and so many good wishes from so many directions.”
She’s been working on In Transit longer than she has been hyphenated and married, starting it 16 years ago with a BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop classmat, James-Allen Ford, and their two post-college a cappella buddies, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth. They’re also making their Broadway bows.
The whole quartet is credited equally with book, music, and lyrics, and that might lead to wrong conclusions. “The Moving Song,” with lyrics like “Time to move on,” sounds like another way for Anderson-Lopez to say “Let It Go,” but no, “’The Moving Song’ is pure Sara. I wrote ‘Getting There,’ ‘Give Up,’ ‘Saturday Night,’ ‘Do What I Do,’ among others. The song, ‘Getting There,’ comes from a really personal place for me.”
In Transit is a show that loves New York, and she dressed accordingly. “See my dress?” she said, giving her deep purple frock a twirl. Along the edges, in black beads, is the New York skyline. “It’s by Kenny B., and he’s launching his own fashion line.” She exhausted herself spelling out what the B. stood for: Bonavicacola. “Whew! That was really hard. It’s the most spelling that I’ve done in a long, long time.”
The show has four main characters, fortified by autobiographical bits and pieces from the four creatives. The seven other actors play from 40 to 50 other characters in total.
Photos: In Transit Opens on Broadway
Ford’s personal traumas coming out to his Bible-belted mom before he marries his fella provided one of the stronger and meatier portions of the musical. The gay couple’s final appearance in tuxedos, tossing a bouquet, paid off in applause.
“That applause at the end always warms my heart,” admitted Telly Leung, who plays one of the grooms, opposite Justin Guarini. “They don’t just cheer us as a gay couple. They cheer us as a couple, period.”
Guarini, who plays the more quasi-closeted of the couple, calls this cast “the ultimate ensemble. We are the orchestra. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s still singing going on. When we go back and do quick changes, we still have to sing throughout all that. We’re changing and singing, and it’s all happening at the same time. It takes a massive amount of coordination and a lot of practice to bring this show off.”
James Snyder, of Cry-Baby and If/Then, is another who is quite aware of the challenges of this particular musical. “The technical elements of not having instruments backing us up, but having to do it a cappella, is like nothing I’ve really had to do as far as storytelling goes. There were moments where we all thought we were going to lose our minds, but, happily, everyone rose to the occasion. I’m so proud of everyone involved in this process.”
Moya Angela contributes two formidable performances—the mother who won’t admit her son is gay and the subway clerk who won’t give anybody a free ride. “I love how each time I step on stage, I embody a totally different person. As soon as I put on the costume, I have to get my whole mindset wrapped around them.”
Erin Mackey, who plays the runner Ali, feels the show works for tourists as well as natives. “It’s such a love letter to New York,” she said. “For people who live here and take the subway, they’ll recognize things right away in our show. For tourists, I think the central conflict of each character—breakups, losing jobs, family struggles—are so relatable and human. I love that about the show—that it can reach anyone.”
When the ever-auditioning Jane lands a job, she is told with a fanfare right out of A Chorus Line: “Congratulations, honey, you finally got your first Broadway show.”
“It always gets applause, and sometimes it stops the show,” confessed Margo Seibert, who plays that lucky role. “It’s very cathartic for people. They’re rooting for her, which I appreciate, and they want her dreams to come to fruition.”
Veteran director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall keeps this Manhattan valentine in perpetual motion, as well she should. “It’s a show about being in motion or trying to be in motion, so I wanted to have lots of movement to it,” she reasoned. “The actors are extraordinary. They’re quadruple threats—singer, dancer, actor, and music.”
This last “threat” is why In Transit requires different direction from the usual Broadway fare. “The difference, of course, is that the actors are the band, so they’re constantly singing. They sing the lead in one song, and the next song they’re singing backup. Sometimes, they’re singing backup while they’re backstage changing.”
The narrator and chief noise-maker in In Transit is a high-voltage street musician named Boxman—a character double-cast with Steven “Heaven” Cantor and Chesney Snow. Given the flaky pelting of opening night, guess who got the shot?
Like the creative team, Chesney Snow made his Broadway debut on opening night. A student of sound and sound effects, he has worked with Michael Winslow, an actor, comedian, and beatboxer billed as “The Man of 10,000 Sounds Effects.”
“Michael is a brilliant vocal artist,” Snow said. “He goes back to the ‘60s and got his start with Count Basie. He once told me he’d go to Grand Central and just listen to sounds. I did that at Union Square when I was preparing for this role. I’d sit there for hours and listen to the various sounds. This show is about taking in the sounds and listening to what’s around you. It’s really a magical moment to take in the vibrations of the city. New York is not just noise. It’s really an orchestra of the whole world.”