Fresno Pacific offers the intimate musical ‘Ordinary Days,’ a show about human connections
Brandi Martin, the new head of the theater program at Fresno Pacific University, knew her students wouldn’t be overjoyed when she told them there would be no school musical in 2022. The budget just wouldn’t allow it. But she was surprised by how sad some of them were at the news.
Then it occurred to her: Because of the pandemic, Fresno Pacific had been forced to cancel its last regularly scheduled musical, “The Spitfire Grill,” in 2020. The program is on an every-other-year schedule for musicals, and because of the calendar, some of the university’s seniors wouldn’t have had a chance to perform in their four years of attendance.
That’s when she decided she had to do a musical. (And it needed to be a small one.) The result is a production of “Ordinary Days,” a four-person show with music by Adam Gwon. The 2009 show includes the well-known song “I’ll Be Here,” recorded by Audra McDonald. Set in New York City, the musical’s themes of connection, joy and loss – played against the backdrop of a city still freshly hurting from 9/11 – give this intimate story real power.
There’s a small window of opportunity to catch the show: It opens Wednesday, April 6, and continues through Saturday, April 9, at University Presbyterian Church.
One of the challenges of a sung-through musical is that the accompanist is working all the time. Matt Horton, a Fresno Pacific music professor, is on stage the entire time. It’s as if he becomes a fifth character. I caught up with him by email to ask a few questions:
Q Did you know anything about “Ordinary Days” before Brandi Martin selected the show to perform? What was your reaction when you first read through the score?
A: I had never heard of this musical before. I was intrigued that the music score was for piano and singers only. I knew that this would allow greater potential for musical intimacy and nuances between the piano and voice.
Q: Speaking of the score, what can you tell us musically about composer Adam Gwon?
A: The composition is very rhythmical with hints of Jazz influences. The composer does a fantastic job at connecting the emotion of the lyrics with the piano.
Q: For those who aren’t familiar with the show, can you give us a brief synopsis?
A: This is a story about four people looking for happiness and their “life story.” Along the journey they discover that beauty can be found in the simple things of life.
Q: Fresno Pacific usually does a musical every other year. It was supposed to perform “The Spitfire Grill” in 2020 but had to cancel because of the pandemic. How did “Ordinary Days” slip in to the schedule?
Brandi and I were both in agreement that the musical should happen this year, despite any obstacles. The support from the administration and enthusiasm of the cast has made this years’ musical a reality.
Q: You’re performing in the University Presbyterian Church sanctuary. What are some of the challenges and benefits in using that as a theater space?
A: The University Presbyterian Church sanctuary is a fantastic space for this show. The only challenge is the backstage area is limited in space and the actors must go outside and around the building for entrances for their scenes.
Q: Watching “Ordinary Days” when it first came out in 2009 felt pretty raw because of the proximity to 9/11. Now that more years have passed, do you think the emotions have lessened?
A: The emotions of 9/11 come flooding back in one of the last musical numbers of the show. No matter how many times I’ve rehearsed this piece, that moment always gets to me emotionally. It’s as if the events of 9/11 just happened.
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Q: Speaking of passing years, your students were just babies when 9/11 occurred. As someone who lived through that time, what was it like to tell them about it?
A: I think it was an eye-opening experience for the students to hear that we watched it live on TV on 9/11. The discussions with them helped to bring the reality and pain of that day into the scenes of the musical.
Q: You’re like a fifth character in this four-person musical. What do you think you bring to the show in terms of your own stage presence?
The core of this show is the music, and the piano is a leading character. I merely follow the emotions of the cast and the reflections of their characters.
Q: Finally, tell us about your talented FPU cast.
A: Alex Lujan sets the tone for the show with his high energy and hilarious portrayal as Warren. Tiana Gabel plays Deb, and has been waiting for this day to appear on stage again after “Spitfire Grill” was canceled. Her acting skills and comedic timing really bring her character to life. Izaiah Ruiz has shown incredible growth during this entire experience playing Jason. His lyrical voice and subtle nuances in his falsetto are amazing to hear. Kori Hodson plays Claire and ties the entire show together when she sings “I’ll be Here.” Her rendition of this piece will have you both smiling and crying.