A helpful guide for the musical direction of Ordinary Days compiled by Philip Eames
I was recently involved in a production of Adam Gwon’s remarkable musical Ordinary Days, with a fantastic cast and team but a short run. The effort level of detail that went into the production made me think it was worth putting down some of the show’s idiosyncrasies and corners for use in future productions. This is inspired by Peter Hilliard’s series of M.D. guides, which I’ve found very useful in the past.
Ordinary Days tells the story of four people living in New York: Warren, Deb, Claire and Jason. From the outside, not a great deal happens and the premise is at a glance very ‘ordinary,’ making it somewhat difficult to explain convincingly to those unfamiliar with the show. Warren is a struggling artist wanting to make a meaningful impact as a ‘pioneer of visual art.’ Deb is a graduate student constantly frustrated with her life situation but driven by her belief in her own potential. Jason and Claire are a couple, with the latter exhibiting reluctance to take things further. These stories are really only of great significance to the people living them, drawing parallels with our own lives. Only one significant externalised event occurs when Warren releases his flyers over the city; the rest of the show is about the intimate interactions, conversations and reflections that aren’t visible to the public eye.
As such, Ordinary Days is at its heart a play set to music. It is not difficult to imagine a short (and probably less effective) spoken version made up of translated monologues and one-on-one conversations. The relatively new term ‘Sonder,’ the awareness that everyone around you has lives that are just as complex and nuanced as yours. applies well to the concept and is something that only Warren has any inkling of. One of the main points in Ordinary Days is that despite the intense focus on four people’s life stories, its very restriction hints that they are really just that – four people in a ‘Hundred story’ city full of millions more. The other key idea is that there is a certain beauty in the ordinary that ‘has to be seen’ to be perceived.
Listening to the original cast recording of Ordinary Days is essential. As a completely sung show, the cast recording tells the entire story and the piano accompaniment is the only ‘orchestration’ you’ll be working with. While you may have different ideas for characterisation, the cast (Jared Gertner, Kate Wetherhead, Lisa Brescia and Hunter Foster) do an excellent job at portraying the different personalities.
It is important to note that a lot of the notated vocal lines in the score are somewhat awkward approximations, and your own cast is likely to be using the cast recording as the aural standard for their own learning. With very limited ensemble singing there is less pressure to be exact and insisting on following the notation is likely to result in awkward passages at some point in most songs.
Apart from that, there is a certain simplicity to the show with its limited scene changes, movement and lack of orchestra. Also, with almost half the songs being solo monologues it is not too far removed from the style of a cabaret, which makes preparation quite straightforward.
With the limited need for group rehearsals (as discussed later) it might also be a creative bonding/visualising exercise for the cast and production team to visit an art gallery together.
Being an intentionally piano-only score, it is mostly well written for the instrument, rather than the awkward orchestral reductions that are often the case. That said, while some of the numbers feature fairly intuitive and repetitive accompaniment, it rewards a study of the stylistic nuances and I would advise that only skilled and confident pianists take on this score.
With the rehearsal approach outlined later, this show is particularly suited to the Music Director also being the pianist during the shows, unless you have a particularly available and obliging pianist. If you are also the pianist, spend the early pre-rehearsal stage tackling the harder numbers in the show (Calm, Sort-Of Fairy Tale, Hundred Story City, Rooftop Duet, and I’ll Be Here)
Nb: Many page turns in the score require careful negotiation and in some cases are impossible to manage without either considerable memorisation or other work-arounds.
With just four roles, it goes without saying that your Ordinary Days cast have to be exceptional with their singing, acting and communication (though not choreography). I can’t emphasise enough the extent to which casting choices really make a show, and good casting makes our job so much easier in the long run. But for Ordinary Days it is particularly worth searching for a cast and chemistry that you’re completely satisfied with. In a four-member cast with an equal amount of solos and stage time, there is nowhere to hide… if one member of the cast is weaker they will stand out all the more against the others. So this is something of an all-or-nothing deal.
While the singing demands for the cast are similar, perhaps the other big thing to avoid with the casting for Ordinary Days (and most small-cast shows with distinctive casts for that matter) is to have cast members who are interchangeable. If you look at an unlabelled cast photo and can’t immediately tell who is playing Deb/Claire or Warren/Jason you’ve got a problem! Adherence to or strong suggestion of suitable ages is also quite important for the story; the Warren and Deb arc involves setting out to find their place in the world, while Jason and Claire are established professionals who are in the (turbulent) process of settling down.
Fortunately, the singing demands aren’t particularly great in Ordinary Days. Most decent singers will be able to surmount the challenges of the roles, so character suitability can be the first priority given a large enough audition pool. No role is persistently extreme in register, but breath control, diction and stamina are constant challenges in most songs, particularly for the women.
Idealistic, determined, energetic, naïve, and visionary, Warren is by far the most typical musical-theatre role in Ordinary Days. By this I mean that the others are fairly relatable as ordinary people, but Warren is a veritable oddball. While there are plenty of animated tenors out there, your Warren needs to be able to radiate a sense of ‘chump who was roped into cat-sitting.’ Conversely, it is easy to overdo it and make him into a one-dimensional caricature. Warren needs to be able to sincerely navigate sensitive moments (get them to try the ending of Sort-Of Fairy Tale) and ultimately project quiet satisfaction as his convictions are validated, which is somewhat hard to do that if he comes across as an exaggerated Muppet.
Warren needs to be able to convincingly bring Deb and the audience around to his way of viewing the world, and thus harking back to the beginning of the whole show as he does this ‘One by One.’ Only then do we realise that there are actually some remarkable oddballs out in the world making a deep impact. To quote Schopenhauer: ‘Talent is like a marksman who hits a target that others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target others cannot even see.’ To me this somewhat applies to Warren in its own way.
Vocally, it is not the most demanding or draining role, although comic timing, the ability to patter, a mastery of physical movement while singing is required. Although a tenor role, Warren actually spends most of the time in a comfortable baritone tessitura, only rising to the higher notes towards the climactic points of his featured songs. There is some flexibility with the lowest part of the technical range, as this is often more conversational in nature, but Warren needs to have a high, clear D4-G4 belts. Princeton from Avenue Q or Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors are some rough parallel roles both in terms of vocal and character.
Paired with Warren, Deb has a dry rapier wit, is easily frustrated and despite her claims, is a negative person overall. From a character perspective there is a bit of fundamental disjointedness between the personalities of most musical theatre leads with those of real-life academics, something Kate Wetherhead addresses well. Although Deb is a major lead role, an exaggerated larger-than-life comedic diva approach is not going to gel. From our own cast’s observations she was actually the most relatable character, plagued with everyday annoyances while grappling with frustrated life goals.
Together with Warren, Deb delivers the bulk of the show’s comedic value despite her deadpan attitude, and the ability to deliver this is crucial. Songs like Don’t Wanna Be Here and Calm demand fantastic diction and breath control and there is a fine, fine line between virtuosic and rushed, particularly in the latter.
Like Warren, much of her patter (which is the majority of her singing) is in a comfortable mid-low register, however she regularly uses those lower notes, so the ability to project and be clear there is important. Any fast passage from Calm is indicative of this. Deb is also required to belt up to a C#5/D5. A suitable belting range is also worth checking out in Rooftop Duet, (b.85-92), which needs to be matched later by Warren.
While character development is central to the other characters, Jason is the most consistent. Unlike the other characters, Jason exactly knows who he is and what he wants, being neither particularly ambitious, visionary, nor even unreasonable; he simply wants to settle down with Claire and doesn’t understand her resistance. This constancy is needed to launch Claire’s development arc that eventually resolves in his favour, but requires no further shifts on Jason’s part beyond coping with rejection in the interim. As a result, his story halts about two-thirds of the way through the show after Hundred Story City, with his role being reduced to something of a narrator and a passive observer to the flyers and Claire’s confession.
Despite his energetic opening number The Space Between, Jason’s songs and duets are mainly reflective and emotive in nature. Favorite Places stands on its own as a simple, pining ballad, and works most effectively outside of the show’s context. That said there is surprising difficulty in singing these numbers effectively, particularly as the choruses often feature exposed vowel placement and require careful negotiation of dynamics and breath control through some very angular phrases. Although expressive, the acting demands on Jason are probably the most generic, so this character probably has the most open casting potential. This allows for more emphasis on singing ability.
Unlike Warren and Deb, Jason’s vocal lines oscillate constantly throughout his whole range, and he has the least pattery songs in the show. The low A2 is not as essential, but a solid B2 is frequently needed. The singing needs constant care as with this wider contour comes a lot of awkward leaps that need to have control to ensure they are connected. Some good passages to test both range and handling is b.90-101 of Favorite Places and b.43-63 of Hundred Story City. In auditioning it is vital to see these skills as opposed to just the swagger of songs like Space Between.
Along with Warren, Claire is the most specific role to cast, requiring a very specific actress to hit the climactic point of the show and twist the knife hard. Claire needs to be extremely layered, a powerful and confident singer belied by being in her own head too much, able to show subtle glimpses of the person she once was, foster a sense of confused dislike in the audience (initially), and have a knack for delivering a wide variety of expressive nuance. Utter control while acting flustered and stressed is essential, especially in the patter of Gotta Get Out.
For Claire, the same kind of care is needed with casting Eponine in Les Misérables and Beth in Little Women. If the audience does not believe your choice, the dramatic climaxes will fall flat. Conversely, get it right and the emotionally virtuosic I’ll Be Here is one of the most poignant moments in modern musical theatre.
Claire’s singing role is something of a mix. Like Warren and Deb, Claire’s patter songs are mostly in a low register and the phrases of I’ll Be Here are usually within a surprisingly small pitch space of about a 5th. However, typically Claire’s numbers also contain more expressive sections with wider contours that are more resemblant of Jason’s songs, such as b.58- 78 in Let Things Go and from b.81 in Gotta Get Out. That said if a solid E5 belt is there, really preference the character fit.
The challenge with some small-cast shows is the intense focus on the interaction between characters and getting tight, complex harmonies locked in. In some extreme cases, that often means it’s not worth rehearsing at all if one or two critical members of the cast is sick or can’t make it. Happily this is not the case for Ordinary Days, which affords a remarkably flexible rehearsal approach.
There is no need to rehearse this show in a chronological fashion or by getting the hardest numbers out of the way, in fact, due to the alternation of characters, these approaches would just get in the way and make for a time wasting schedule nightmare. Even until quite an advanced stage the show is admirably suited to having mostly one-on-one and paired duet rehearsals. If only Warren/Deb or Claire/Jason are available, you can work on and run almost half the show, which is also advisable for them to do at some point anyway to get a sense of their uninterrupted story arc. Even if only one cast member is available, you can still work productively on the almost all of their singing throughout the show (principally solos and ‘duets’).
Remarkably, ensemble singing in Ordinary Days is extremely limited and a good cast can have it solidly learnt and memorised in a single early rehearsal. I counted only 46 bars of four-part texture throughout the entire show, divided among the concluding moments of three numbers: Big Picture (15 bars), Hundred Story City (9 bars) andRooftop Duet/Falling (22 bars). That is not to say that this is easy singing, as the simultaneous exclamations in Big Picture are remarkably difficult to follow and Falling contains some rich harmonic adventures, but it shouldn’t pose a significant challenge to your cast.
The labelling of some numbers as ‘company’ in the index is slightly misleading. Saturday at the Met is really just a series of solos, with a small amount of duet overlap. Similarly, Big Picture and Rooftop Duet/Falling are mostly duets. From a rehearsal perspective these can be treated as such until relatively late in the process. Except for a dedicated harmony rehearsal as discussed above, you don’t need everyone there to learn these ‘company’ songs. For instance calling everyone for an early rehearsal involving Big Picture would be a colossal waste of Jason and Claire’s time, so instead group it with other Warren/Deb duets and work the other two in later.
The term ‘duet’ is also something that needs addressing for this show. Notably that the conversational nature of the singing keeps even two-part harmony to a minimum. Saturday at the Met, Fine and Falling are the only numbers that contain significant overlapping vocal lines. If you are able to interject the occasional response while playing, the rest of the duets can be treated as solos during the initial learning process. For instance, Deb can learn much of Big Picture and her part Rooftop Duet by herself.
With these factors in mind, taking a divide-and-conquer approach is the most time-effective approach to Ordinary Days. It can also be quite cost-effective, if initial one-on-one/duet rehearsals means you can use someone’s living room rather than hire a rehearsal space. A good rehearsal structure would be to start with each of the singers individually, and get them all together to meet and take a look at the ensemble parts. Then pair them off and work through their respective duet material. The blocking/staging process can easily function the same way. Then you’re ready to start running! For our run, the entire cast was only in the same room together about four times before we started doing full runs of the show.
The Structure of the Ordinary Days…
Ordinary Days is an exceptionally well-balanced and democratic show in terms of the numbers. With a handful of very minor exceptions (Dear Professor Thompson, Big Picture/Hundred Story City, Falling/I’ll Be Here) character appearances leapfrog between numbers throughout the show, giving each cast member ample time for rest and costume changes.
The democratic nature of Ordinary Days sees each character given three major solos, while participating in four/five duets in their Warren/Deb and Jason/Claire pairings.
The show’s storyline is structured loosely in five roughly equal parts.
- Introductory songs: (One by One by One, Don’t Wanna Be Here, The Space Between, Let Things Go)
- To The Met Events: (Dear Professor Thompson, Life Story, I’m Trying, Saturday at the Met)
- The Post-Met Events: (Favorite Places, Sort-of Fairy Tale, Fine, Big Picture)
- Reflections: (Hundred Story City, Party Interlude, Calm, Life Story, Gotta Get Out)
- Resolutions: (Rooftop Duet/Falling, I’ll Be Here, Beautiful)
Parts 1 and 4 consist entirely of solo numbers. Part 3 is mainly duets, as is Part 2 in the sense that Professor Thompson and Life Story are entwined from a staging perspective. Part 5, containing the climatic moments of the show, has most of the limited full-company singing, but is also largely duets, and I’ll Be Here, although a solo is in reality being sung to a second character in Jason.
This is a detailed overview of the score from the perspective of MD/pianist. Many of these are based on the cast and Vadim Feichtner’s playing on the Cast Recording (CR), others are my observations from our own run of the show.
I began this list noting all the myriad of changes I made to the piano accompaniment, after a comparative study of the score and cast recording. I’ve kept them in for the first three songs for reference but this quickly grew tedious and I got a sense I was pedantically listing them into the void in Warren-esque fashion. Needless to say the notated parts for some songs are better than others, so for later numbers I simply made general observations on the playing style.
1. Underture (Instrumental)
This is a brief, understated introduction that only returns in the final number.
b.9-12: Omitted in the cast recording but potentially useful to include if accompanied by a staging purpose.
2. One by One by One (Warren)
Warren’s opening number needs to get across his idealism and frustration in equal measure. A brisk urgent tempo and strict sense of rhythm for the faster passages is needed, as is the clarity for Warren’s dialogue. From a staging perspective, he is likely to be quite active on the stage. The other characters make brief cameos during the song.
b.6-7: The vamp is clearer if b.8 is removed and the repeat signs shifted to b.6-7. Exit any bar of this new vamp to b.9 on “Free piece of – Stop!” which is easiest if Warren does so rhythmically and predictably on the beat, as per the CR.
b.11: Here and in b.204 Warren needs to give a clear visual cue to make his vocal entrances predictable.
b.85: Wrong notes in the piano part beat 3 – it should be Ab octaves in the left hand, as per the CR.
b.86: On beat 3 playing a D Major Chord starting on D4 with LH D Octaves, as per the CR, is more secure than the high leap to D6.
b.181, b.215, b.219, b.227: Omit the high A in the right hand chord on beat 1 due to awkwardness.
b.213: Make sure Warren gives this time to build up vocally as marked in the piano part to avoid the one by one by one… becoming too static and obviously repetitive.
b.228: A really awkward beat 4 RH – better to keep it as an octave with C#5 instead.
CR Performance Pedantry:
b.1-2: Sustain the LH A’s for the full two bars.
b.5: Start the glissando much lower than indicated.
b.18: LH octave sustained to beat 3.
b.46: Octave A’s on Beat 3 as in b.45.
b.57-58. RH chords on beat 2 sustain as minims
b.58: B2 in LH on beat 4.
b.101: Eb octave doubled in LH
b.121-122: Free time and a lengthy pause is effective here.
b.142: Beat 3 low octave A’s repeated as in Bar 141.
b.161: Low A’s beat 4
b.162, 166, 168: Alternate LH octave A’s/B’s on beats 2-3-4.
b.174: The low F# of b.175 is placed one beat earlier on beat 4 of 174.
b.230-231: Sustain as minims LH beat 1 in both bars.
3. Don’t Wanna Be Here (Deb)
This song is fairly straightforward and functions well as a stand-and-sing, with the style of delivery setting up Deb’s ambitious and frustrated attitude. It also begins to highlight that the common element of all Deb’s problems is herself. Fleshing out the accompaniment towards the end of the bars as noted in the CR Performance drives it along nicely.
b.1-2 and 5-6: Chords on beat 1 sustained to the following chord, the written short staccato is abrupt.
b.11: Omit lower B in grace note RH octaves. Rearticulate LH C2 on beat 4. There appears to be a timing error on the CR here with roughly a beat missing in the silence. This may affect your Deb’s intuition here.
b.19: Coordination is a little tricky with the subsequent leap down. The CR plays beat 4.5 as C4/D4/G4, but the notated chord works fine too with practice.
b.46: The vocal line is particularly problematic – it works better if the “Five” is shifted to beat 2 is a quaver, following the CR.
CR Performance Pedantry:
b.2: Repeat LH Bb2 on beat 2
b.3: Alternate LH G’s on beat 3.5, 4 and 4.5. This occurs stylistically in similar places: b.15-17, b.26-27, b.31-33, b.52, b.56-58.
b.12: A2-G2 semiquavers on beat 4.5
b.13: F2-G2 semiquavers on beat 4.5
b.15: RH Bb3 on Beat 2 and A3/C4 on beat 4.5. Similarly for b.31
b.16: Sustain beat 1 chord and rearticulate staccato on beat 2. Rearticulate RH beat 2 chord on beat 4. Similarly for b.32
b.17: RH G3/A3/C4 chord on beat 4
b.20: Rearticulate LH B’s on beat 4.5. Similarly in b.24-25, and b.28-29, b.53-54.
b.21 and b.22: Alternate LH F’s as semiquavers on beat 4.5
b.39-41: Beat 3.5 Lowest LH note moved to Beat 3.25, alternated up an octave to Beat 3.5 and tied to Beat 4. Similarly at b.62-66 and 72. This rhythmic pattern moves the texture along as per the CR.
b.43: Lower grace note works best as part of the chord. Omit the upper note as per CR
b.47: Continue Low F’s on Beat 3 and 4 offbeats.
b.52: Rearticulate lower two notes of beat 2.5 RH chord on beat 4, staccato. Similarly for b.56-58.
b.58: Left hand octave alternation, with the last quaver as semiquavers F#’s separated. Similarly for b.59-60.
b.60: Low G octaves in LH on Beat 1 and beat 3.5
b.62: Grace Note F# into the 3rd LH chord.
b.68: LH beat 3 C2 minim is a quaver, followed by an alternating C3 crotchet and C2 quaver in the CR.
b.78: Offbeat LH B’s on beat 4.5
b.83: Offbeat LH C’s on beat 4.5
b.84: Offbeat LH C’s on beats 3.5 and 4.5
4. Space Between (Jason)
In the piano part, there’s a lot that needs refiguring in the score, and this is the most problematic number in this regard. The incessant quaver beats benefit greatly from the variations as executed in the CR, as well as a much more active LH part and chromatic bass movements. Jason needs to take particular care on the chorus, with the key words to the song ‘Space Between’ occurring in a suddenly high belt and nasal-prone ‘ee’ vowel, with vibrato going some way to mitigate this.
b.1:Beat 4 is dotted quaver with and Eb3 semiquaver on 4.75, slurred to the next chord.
b.2: Beat 1 articulate chord rather than tied from the previous bar. Beat 2 is tied to beat 1.5. Eb3 semiquaver on 4.75, slurred to the next chord.
b.3: Beat 1 articulate chord rather than tied from the previous bar. Beat 2 is tied to beat 1.5. Beat 4 is a crotchet tied to the previous chord.
b.4: Awfully notated and the glissandi are ineffective. Instead, articulate the chord on beat 1 (not tied). Play nothing on beat 1.5. Then play octaves in both hands following the E4-F4-G4 octaves. Ignore all written glissandi, but put one ascending from low on beat 4 in the LH.
b.33: Similar to opening b.1.
b.39. Alternate low/high LH octaves on each beat. Similarly in b.45-46.
b.51: A fuller improvisation occurs in this bar than what is written. Omit the leading glissando to this bar.
b.65: ‘Space’ occurs on beat 2 as it did in b.25. This is essential for breath. Similarly at b.69.
b.66: Play the same RH as in b.70, and the low alternating octave G bassline of the CR.
b.77-78: Substantially different in the CR.
b.80: The RH chord in the CR is A4–C5-D5-F5.
CR Performance Pedantry:
b.1-3: Alternate LH on beat 4. Strong accents in LH on beats 2 and 4.
b.5: Beat 4 LH should be C#’s. Similarly at b.9
b.6: Alternate LH as a grace note D1 to D2 on beat 2, with D1/D2 semiquaver from beat 4.5. Similarly in B.8
b.7: Beat 4 should be F#’s
b.10: LH D1/D2 octaves on beat 2.5 and LH quaver alternate from beat 3.5. Similarly on D in b.30, G b.32
b.12: LH Ab quaver alternate from beat 3.5.
b.13: Beat 4 LH should be G’s. RH alternate C/A’s from beat 1.5 and only a G3 on beat 4.
b.14: Beat 4 LH should be low F#’s
b.15: Beat 4 LH should be G’s. Tied RH chord to next note
b.16: Beat 1.5, 2.5 Tie RH to next not. LH beat 1.5 F#1 and beat 2 F#2. Alternate F’s from beat 3.5
b.19-20: Downwards arpeggio on the chords in the RH with each change of note in the LH. Add Bass alternation ad lib throughout this progression.
b.21: Beat 4 LH should be G’s.
b.22: Beat 2.5 LH should be F’s. Chords of b.23 starts one quaver earlier on beat 4.5
b.23-24: Tie upper RH notes in progression. Alternate Bass ad lib.
b.25: Beat 4 LH should be G’s.
b.26: Beat 2.5 LH low F’s and beat 4.5 C2/C3 octave.
b.29: Beat 4 LH should be D#’s.
b.32: No glissandi
5. Let Things Go (Claire)
Our introduction to Claire rings some alarm bells in contrast to Jason’s optimistic song. It is painfully evident they are not on the same wavelength and she comes across (at first) as somewhat unreasonable in her refusal to make room. Vocally the lengthy ‘go’ melismas are tricky to sing and require some vowel control. Given the largely patter nature of the song, it is difficult to make these moments of pure embellished singing not stand out. Claire is likely to be active throughout this song too and has to match her actions with her dialogue.
b.3-4: Possible vamp if needed.
b.60: Move the first semiquaver of the RH groups into the LH from beats 2-4. Similarly in bar 62 beat 4.
b.61-62: There’s some awkwardness to navigate as the LH notes overlap the RH runs.
b.73: Lisa Brescia sings “needed this” as a triplet rather than “need this”
b.106: This works better as per CR: B3/F4/B4 in RH and B1/B2 in LH on Beat 1, and then start the Glissando down from B5 on beat 2.
6. Dear Professor Thompson (Intro) (Deb)
This is a short and straightforward number, which contains very little rhythmic variance. Light and bright throughout, with moments of more weighted accompaniment in the turns after phrases.
b.33-37: Make sure when staging is added the correct amount of “it’s not there” is present as Deb rummages.
7. Dear Professor Thompson/Life Story (Deb/Warren)
Although not difficult to play, there is a lot of rubato and flexibility that goes along with Professor Thompson. Generally when Deb is typing it is essential she can be seen clearly by the pianist and gives clear visual cues when she is about to sing, as comic inflections and audience laughter can affect this differently every performance.
Life Story is simple and sweet – it doesn’t need much embellishment and the charm comes from the honest presentation. The CR often adds a 3rd LH rearticulation from b.72 to b.128, which differentiates the accompaniment a bit.
Although Professor Thompson frames Life Story, they are separate songs and there’s absolutely no need to rehearse these numbers together initially.
b.5: b.9.5 and b.16.5 require some entrance clarity
b.21: As rapid as clarity allows, but be sure to contrast this to the slower corresponding passage in Part 2.
b.23-6: Entrance clarity on all of these.
b.26: Possible vamp b.26-29
b.90: In this bridge a slight tempo and dynamic increase moves it along nicely.
b.102: An awkward enharmonic spelling, made easier by omitting the G# in the RH.
b.148-149: Possibly repeat similar to the opening with final RH chord being G#5/D6/G#6 on the second time.
b.150, b.154, b.162: Entrance Clarity.
b.167-168: Slower tempo than in part 1 – it’s a good joke to land clearly.
b.169: As per the CR aligning the RH B octaves with ‘Smiley face’ is cleaner.
8. I’m Trying (Intro) (Claire/Jason)
This is another straightforward introduction with easy, repetitive accompaniment. Timing the staging with box sorting and the corresponding dialogue is the only mild challenge, but the underscore provides ample time to get through it and having to vamp extensively won’t cause a problem either. The connection to I’m Trying requires some more collaboration as noted below.
b.1-2: May require vamping.
b.30: This is an exposed entrance for Jason, work on maintaining the sense of pitch.
b.31-32: In free time, with a gradual accelerando from b.33.
b.36: RH minims with the vocals rather than 4 crotchets.
b.37-40: Together with the first 4 bars of I’m Trying, staging and dialogue timing is tricky and important to work on. This is half the length in the cast recording. It seemed to work best for us to have Claire continue to unpack and rummage until b.1 of I’m Trying so she has the modulation as reference. Otherwise the temptation is to rush the accompaniment to follow them, which will mean as the pattern continues into b.5 (The “Top ten things” line, which has semiquavers) will be too fast.
9. I’m Trying (Claire/Jason)
Curiously, there appear to be eleven things on this Top-Ten list – go ahead and count them! Apart from the opening, this is also mostly riff-based, without much in the way of vocal demands and the accompaniment matches the CR well.
b.1-7: See note for b.37-40 in the Intro above
b.97-98: Freer tempo in voice and accompaniment.
b.126: The beat 3.5 chord falls on the ‘I’m’ in the CR, which is easier to co-ordinate.
10. Saturday at the Met (All)
Almost halfway through the show is the first time all the characters have singing roles, although this is mostly a Deb solo, framing Jason/Claire solos with a little duet. Pianistically the LH is a little more active generally, in the style of Don’t Wanna Be Here for Deb’s first section, otherwise it’s fairly accurate, with some subtleties described below. For Deb’s mid-scene interjections the accompaniment work best with only 3 repeats, which requires some snappy walking and dialogue. This might feel a bit unnatural to the Claire and Jason being approached, as they might be more inclined to consider Deb’s questions. For instance Jason’s ‘I think this is gallery K’ runs quicker if he inflects this as something he certainly knows. The CR does this well but in a staged environment I noticed this was more of a challenge.
b.60: ‘Pace’ is notorious as a melisma, largely as it concludes unintuitively on an offbeat. A more intuitive alternative would be to have the beat 4.5 quaver as an Ab, which then moves to G on the 1st beat. However, it is still doable as the former.
b.71-72: As per the CR the intention here is for Jason to begin this loudly and be shushed by Claire after room, which accounts for the massive leap down to the less projecting lower register.
b.84: Omit the triplet of this vamp as per the CR – it’s seems unnecessarily awkward to rearticulate the Bb as part of the beat 1 chord. Similarly in b.119-120 and b.181-182.
b.87-118: Pay attention to the repetitive RH Chords and vary them through slight accents on beats 2/4.
b.126-127 and 134-135: You can’t play everything here – omit the beat 4 bass clef in the first bar and move down to it on beat 1 of the second, omitting the lower treble clef part.
b.170: Claire’s entrance comes out of nowhere, the pianist needs to watch this carefully.
b.176-180: Entrance clarity needs to be coordinated well with the staging, as this to-and-fro needs to have a natural communicative feel to it.
b.181: The CR does not vamp this, but you will likely need to.
b.190: The accelerando probably needs to start from around here rather than b.195 to move this along.
b.202: A full Gb Major chord in RH from Gb4 is a better conclusion, than the single octave.
11. Favorite Places (Jason)
Quite often with slower sappier numbers they start out being my least ‘favorite’ to listen to but after seeing sincere performances they sometimes win out as real highlights. Firmly in this vein, Favorite Places is a stand-and-sing with a difficult angular musical theme, requiring constant attention to the dramatic arc of the song. Attention to where to breathe is important so as to not disrupt the flow of the long lines in the chorus. As a result, it is very exposed, but that vulnerability is very endearing to the audience. It doesn’t contribute a great to deal to the plot, making it a great general-purpose song needing no set-up context. The piano part is fine as it, although is a little more active in the LH from the beginning to the middle of the song.
b.10: It’s easiest to omit the beat 3 chord to allow Jason to enter on his own time.
b.27-30: Breath control and maintaining the relative gentleness of the line is a challenge here, similarly in the next phrase and when the chorus returns.
b.97: A rallentando/descrecendo in this bar is useful to anticipate the drop to mp. The vocalist may have control issues floating the high F#, particularly if they’ve internalised the phrase as a climax.
12. Sort-of Fairy Tale (Warren/Deb)
A lot of fine timing precision is needed to pull off the overlapping dialogue throughout this. Usually Deb should be the first to start talking to give her book requests more clarity and Warren needs to be absolutely sure of the waltz tempo. With some bold LH leaps in the piano part and interesting runs the piano part is more challenging than it appears so don’t leave this to the last minute to practice.
b.24: The leaps to the high D are doable but risky, and the CR approach is D5 on beat 2 and octave D5/D6 on beat 3. This is also the case at b.42.
b.25: The pause also pertains to the piano part and the ‘Anyway’ may not be completely rhythmical.
b.75-78: The doubling of the vocal line as written is messy and unnecessary, just the interjecting octaves is effective as per the CR.
b.135-137: Omitting the first RH chord and last LH octave each time (as per the CR) is neater and gives more tempo control into b.138.
b.163: This requires a bit of practice.
13. Fine (Claire/Jason)
As listed below the vocal lines in the verses are often incorrect, in reality the first few notes are much higher and meant to be somewhat half-spoken. As long as the rhythmic integrity is there it should be fine. Landing the ‘fine, fine, FINE!’ moments requires some finesse. There is some two-part harmony but this is generally in predictable 3rds when not unison.
From the piano perspective, while Sort-of Fairy Tale seems misleadingly simple, Fine sounds harder than it is. The two bar piano riff, with an angular LH line is repeated so often it’s not a problem, as are the rapid triplet passages from b.110-128. Playing beats 2 and 4 accented during the riff throughout is effective as per the CR.
b.4: The opening of Jason’s line is obviously way too low and is mostly spoken– in relatively it should start around C#3, and the contour settles from ‘with.’ Similarly with his second entry in b. 6, and with Claire’s at b.36 and b.38.
b.69: the bass on beat one should be a Low D1/D2 octave.
b.89: The bass line is really erratic in notation here. As per the CR just octaves on beat 4 (89), beats 1 and 4 (90 and 92), and beat 2 but with beats 3-4 as written (91).
b.102-103: Too much to be played here. The easiest solution is omit the lower treble clef chord on beat 1 and the bass clef triplets on beat 3-4 of both bars. The CR offers a different LH solution if you wanted to notate it.
b.109: An easier transition is offered in the CR: a minim for the RH chord on beat 3, and just the F# LH crotchet on beat 4. This prepares for the slower tempo better.
14. Transition to Big Picture (Instrumental)
Four simple bars derived from Sort-of Fairy Tale.
15. Big Picture (Warren/Deb w. Claire and Jason)
Firstly, note that the pianist may also need to play the barista in this scene. Despite its considerable length the conversational nature of the song is captured well in the score. It sings itself as the two characters share the constantly rising and falling melody. From b.25 accents with the chord changes break up the monotonous texture and two bar loud/soft alternation from b.88-95 is effective. The first ensemble singing at the end is by far the most difficult as all the lines are unrelated. The overlap here means even in their pairs it is still difficult to hear and follow the ‘conversations’ that are going on – by the end everyone is just talking at once.
b.35: Catch Warren’s entrance – visual cue needed.
b.49-52: Arpeggiate this downwards in the RH to break up the chord texture as per the CR. Similarly at b.80-83.
b.66-67: This is sung freely in the CR and works fine without trying to catch the awkward phrasing of ‘ curtain rod.’
b.87: Possibly omit the RH chord beat 4 to allow you to glissando with the RH.
b.141-149: The staccato applies to 2nd chord in these phrases, which makes the ties redundant.
b.156: Warren’s line is 2 equal crotchets in the CR.
b.158: Jason’s first two notes are a dotted crotchet and quaver in the CR.
b.162: Warren’s ‘promise’ is easier spoken and twice the speed to connect it to Deb’s line as in the CR.
b.164-165: Double the LH ascending line in octaves and ignore the lower octave on beat 3 of b.165.
b.165: Jason’s ‘Don’t you want to’ takes place over the four crotchets in this bar in the CR (half speed), matching the LH octaves of the piano.
16. Hundred Story City (Jason w. Warren/Deb/Claire)
Rhythmically the vocal line has a lot of intricacies, but these should be fairly intuitive when read in a conversational style. However, there’s also a lot of dialogue with the kind of similar sentiment that affects memorisation. Jason’s high G at b.81 is a tricky corner to work on.
In the piano part, evenness of the semiquavers is important – there are a few unexpected groupings and repeated notes that can throw you off. This number requires quite a bit of practice to negotiate, and the LH bassline is more active from bar 22, alternating the bass in octaves from beat 3.5.
b. 3-4: Omitted in CR.
b.15-16: Vamp probably not needed and omitted in CR.
b.22-28: The bass line is considerably more active in the CR, often alternating the octaves. Similarly from b.33-42 and 47-50.
b.51-53: In the CR this has a more chordal texture, condensing the ascending run groups, which offers a nice respite from the incessant semiquavers as well as being a little more forceful. Similarly from b.55-56
b.61: Extremely awkward to the point of unreliability. It is far easier to play this as harmonic chords with the same rhythm as the LH as per the CR.
b.63: The last 3 LH chords are awkward and function just as well if play in a lower octave/inversion.
b.64-67: There is a temptation of the rhythmic displacement of the line in the upper LH to be felt by the singers as the downbeat, which can disrupt them if played too loudly.
b.74-79: Rhythmic RH chords similar to the note for b. 51-53.
17. Party Interlude (Claire)
This is a very short, easy song for both voice, which is flexibly notated, and piano. Note that generally the x-notehead contours don’t necessarily reflect the likely contours or relative pitch of the song.
18. Transition to Calm (Instrumental)
The repetitive riff really makes this a vamp for timing purposes, with the same 4-bar harmony repeated three times. If an extensive scene change isn’t needed, the whole Transition is possibly too long and not of enough musical value to be worth playing through the whole thing. As an intro it works just fine by playing starting at bar 9.
19. Calm (Deb)
A real highlight of the show, and the point where Deb ultimately realises that her only positive recent experiences have come from Warren’s influence (including unbeknownst to her, the flyer she was given). It requires some good judgement of tempo from both piano and voice to maintain the rapid patter virtuosity without affecting the clarity of the words. Err on the side of clarity. Having sufficient breath for the long ‘calm’ notes is important. The piano part is fairly accurate generally but contains several tricky corners (b.38, b.78, b.146-147)
b.83: On beat 3.5 omit RH quaver and keep the beat 4 RH A octaves as A3/A4 to be cleaner. Similarly at bar 87.
b.84: The C in the LH beat 2.5 should probably be a B like in b.80.
b.100: Note the fermata in the vocal part on ‘Laundry’ also applies to the piano part.
b.118-121: This requires some practice with Deb to match the rapid acceleration in both parts.
20. Life Story (Reprise) (Warren)
This is a more personal and emotional version of the first Life Story. I would suggest not letting the climaxes get too out of hand to be consistent with the fact Warren is feeling quite dejected but quietly resolute at this point.
b.13-21 and b.54-57: There is a big discrepancy between the piano score and the CR (notated below) in regards to the accompaniment pattern, which can lead to some discomfort when running this with Warren.
b.31: This is also substantially different, with a G Major scale leading up to the next bar from beat 3.
b.38: A fermata is needed in the piano part. The vocal part should be free here.
21. Gotta Get Out (Claire)
For all its patter this song doesn’t say much that we don’t already know. It simply recapitulates Claire’s situation with Jason, and unhelpfully states that she doesn’t know her reasons for running away. Nevertheless this presents Claire at her most energetic. It is a difficult song with vocal endurance, remembering words and the sentences run on to one another and pause mid-sentence, making finding a place to breathe somewhat unintuitive. The other challenge is getting a comfortable controlled performance while acting stressed and extremely flustered.
b.5: hold the RH chord on beat 3 as a minim (CR) to prepare for the next bar. Instead beat 4 is LH octave quavers on E.
b.22-23: Make sure the rhythm here is tight and the ‘So’ lands squarely on the offbeat for a full quaver. Without any piano support this is a place where rushing may start to occur. Similarly at b.42-43, b.56-57, b.68-69 and b.76-77.
b.24-29: The RH is played as crotchets in the CR, which makes for an effective change from constant quavers. Similarly in the second chorus b.58-63.
b.44-45: You can get out of this vamp in any bar. There can be a lot of variance in Claire’s dialogue, so she should feel free to start singing when she’s ready.
b.78: The tempo shift is roughly 3 quavers in the space of 2 in the old tempo.
b.131: There is no glissandi in the CR, however in the context live performance it is probably a little more conclusive to either keep it in, or do a more filled out final chord.
22. Rooftop Duet/Falling (All)
Aside from the relatively brief last section, this song is really two entwined duets, as the song title suggests and can be rehearsed initially that way. While still two songs away from the show’s end, the colourful release of flyers functions as the ‘conventional’ dramatic climax to the work.
This is probably the most difficult piano part in the score, with frequent shifts in style and tempo in addition to the rich texture.
b.1-6: The second LH chord is omitted in the CR, which makes it float more with less noticeable downbeats. This is useful as the vamp in b1-2 might be quite long if there is a substantial scene change. Similarly for b.18-21.
b.7-9: I’d omit the upper 2 notes in the LH on Beat 1 as they form part of the arpeggio.
b.38-39: Warren’s line is much higher (‘That flower pot’ = F3-E3-F3-G3, ‘That was not’ = E3-F3-G3)
b.95-98: Deb’s line doesn’t necessarily have to match up with the piano. In the CR, the piano part only gets going after Deb says ‘why.’
b.110-113: Very awkward notation with unnecessary overlap between the hands. In b.111, beat 4 LH should go to the RH, similarly with b.112 from beat 1.5-2. In b.113, omit the last note of the RH.
b.114-117: It is possible to play the beat 2 and 4 LH notes, but it is easier and cleaner to omit them.
b.120: Some awkward overlap – omit RH C on beat 4.
b.126: In the CR these are performed as crotchet chords on all 4 beats in the RH, with the LH beats 2-3 omitted. If page turning here, that is a much better option.
b.152-153: Depending on staging this vamp could be moved to b.154-155 to allow Jason to enter whenever he is ready.
b.189: As in the CR, arpeggiate the RH down from the 3rd beat to put the RH where it needs to be for b.190.
b.196-202: This is relatively tricky harmony, especially for Claire, NB: ‘Orange Em’rald’ is now an alternating tone instead of a semitone. Note also the subtle changes in the RH piano part on the fourth quaver as it ascends chromatically.
b.230-231: The dialogue will likely go on for a fair while after you reach the vamp. However, it is unobtrusive and can comfortably be repeated without getting old, so don’t worry about speeding up the dialogue or altering the tempo to make it roughly fit.
b.272-273: Swap Warren and Deb’s notes for simpler voice leading. Also pay attention to the balance here as everyone is singing in different parts of their register.
b.274: Jason doesn’t get a chance to rest here.
23. I’ll Be Here (Claire)
While Rooftop is an impressive number, the smiles quickly fade as the story of I’ll Be Here unfolds. It really is the true climactic point of the show in terms of audience impact. Even the uplifting message of the final number, Beautiful, won’t erase the full weight of this song. You should notice the audience becoming very still as it radically re-contextualises the character of Claire.
The challenge throughout is in negotiating a sense of vulnerable spontaneity that requires constant evaluation and response. A range of dramatic approaches to this song is possible and any interpretive decisions (rubato, pauses, half-spoken moments, etc.), will affect future phrases. For instance, a general sense of ebb and flow is effective, particularly on the first page, but be careful that Claire and the piano don’t make this predictable by pulling up the same way on every phrase. The plaintive simplicity of the accompaniment makes this kind of repetition obvious. The central part of the song (b.68 – b.91) modulates frequently and rewards a closer look in both piano and voice.
b.28: This works well with just holding the chord on beat 2 with a slight pause and omit the last 2 LH quavers. Similarly and more forebodingly at b.84.
b.39: From here the piece should be a little faster with less rubato except at the big corners (e.g. b.46)
b.79-80: The CR doesn’t go down to the low RH D but stays up at the F#, which is a less awkward alternative.
b.91: There should be a cut-off after beat 2.
b.94: More rubato again initially, before gradually flowing more.
b.120-124: The CR is much more active here with alternating semiquaver chord figures on the offbeats, which builds to the final climax more effectively.
b.139: Cut-off piano chord after ‘Jason.’
24. Beautiful (Warren/Deb)
Harking back to the Underture material, Beautiful provides a less emotionally turbulent, optimistic conclusion to Ordinary Days. It concludes Warren’s opening arc as someone who has made a positive change on a single individual (unaware of his impact on Claire and Jason) and his persistence has been rewarded.
The piano part is light and simple, but can use a bit more energy from b.41.
b.1-4: A repeat here is likely needed, to transition better from I’ll be Here, and likely give Warren more time to see and appreciate the painting.
b.9: Deb needs to give a clear visual cue here. Similarly in b.66.
b.10-11: From the Low D LH in beat 4 of b.10, the piano figure works if the two low notes are taken in the LH, and beat 1.5 is given to the RH. Similarly in all similar places with this figure.
b.25: Make sure Deb’s ‘I don’t see it’ happens leaving enough time before she goes on singing.
b.76-77: These bars are omitted in the CR. They can work if included but it really depends on the lighting and audience. Enthusiastic audiences clap sooner, which is likely to disrupt the fading of the music if it takes too long as the lights fade. More attentive audiences are likely to appreciate the additional time.
25. Bows (Instrumental)
Similar comments to the style of playing as listed in Space Between apply here. With only four people to introduce and the small-venue suitability of the show, the score provides plenty of time for the bows. Add repeats such as in b.1-2/b.17 to stretch for more time, or cuts to shorten if needed.
I hope that all helps! Enjoy your journey into Ordinary Days!
1 December, 2019