Most of us would never care to strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to us on a subway car. Even if we intuitively know that that stranger has thoughts, feelings, and a life story no less compelling or intricate than our own, there simply isn’t enough time for us to intimately acquaint ourselves with that person, especially when we are rushing to get somewhere.
But what would happen if the train that we were riding got stuck on the tracks, for an indefinite period of time? Would we then take the time to converse with and get to know the folks sitting around us, or would we just continue to read our newspapers, fill out our crossword puzzles, listen to our iPods, and play mindless games on our iPhones and Droids?
Chances are, we would continue those mundane activities of ours and continue to ignore the strangers around us. But the creators of Stuck, one of 30 new musicals to premiere at The New York Musical Theatre Festival, would like to think that a group of six strangers would use their common misfortune as an opportunity for getting to know each other.
Riley Thomas wrote the book, music, and lyrics for this witty new musical, which opens with a sagacious, Shakespeare-reciting hobo named Lloyd (Mel Johnson, Jr.), sharing with his audience words of wisdom about the anonymity that we may feel while riding a subway. He goes on to suggest, somewhat heavy-handedly, that the universe has a way of bringing random people together for a reason. Thus, a subway that gets stuck on its tracks is more than a mere technical glitch; it is fate, pure and simple.
Are we to believe that by the time the train starts moving again, two characters will kindle a romance, while another character will reconsider the abortion that she deemed inevitable when she first stepped onto the train? Both propositions are farfetched, but never do they detract from the musical’s charm and energy.
And it has some great songs, too. Thomas’ pieces cover a wide range of musical genres—Doo-wop, jazz, samba, and of course, “traditional” show numbers—all of which underscore the eclectic natures of the characters themselves.
Alicia (E.J. Zimmerman) is an art student being pursued by Caleb (Tim Young), a geeky, comic book-obsessed teenager. He has been following her around for weeks, and Alicia is well aware of the unpleasant fact. Their being stuck on the train together will force each of them to confront the other as candidly as they know how, resulting in some delightful banter between the two.
By all accounts, Caleb should seem like a predatory creep, but Young gives his character an endearing pathos. His infatuation with Alicia is boyish, innocent, and entirely well-meaning. Zimmerman, meanwhile, gives to Alicia a flighty but intelligent charm, which saves her character from complete contemptibility when she blithely issues racist remarks.
That’s the other thing this musical touches on: when a group of people from different backgrounds are forced to be with each other, certain tensions are bound to emerge. Alicia is Korean-American, but she was adopted by white parents during infancy, and has presumably led a life of comfort and privilege. She suggests that Ramon (Danny Bolero), an illegal immigrant struggling to support his family, has no right to be in America and that he is living off of taxpayers’ hard work. When a young black woman named Eve (Anita Welch) rushes to Ramon’s defense, he ungraciously attacks Eve, saying that people of her race are lazy and thuggish.
The dialogue in this scene (and in many others) is utterly raucous but carries with it a very serious and admirable point: racism is often the result of complacent fixity with our own viewpoints and life experiences. To understand another person’s life and the difficulties that come with it, we must step outside ourselves so that we might begin to grasp the choices that others face.
Stuck works well during these fraught moments, and such moments are often as humorous as they are tense. One example is a scene in which Alicia desperately has to urinate: what will she do? The solution to her dire problem will involve an empty wine bottle and a funnel, accompanied by a sidesplittingly awkward Doo-op routine from the three male characters, in keeping with Alicia’s demand that no one look at her while she is doing her business.
The show’s resolution should come as no surprise: the glitch is fixed, and the train is moving once again. The characters will go on with their lives, and, with the possible exception of Alicia and Caleb, never see each other again. The final song, “What Everyone Wants,” is a sweeping encapsulation of the musical’s overarching themes. Everyone wants to be happy, to be loved, the song insists. This is all perfectly true, of course, but Stuck, a mere 85 minutes, does not seem to earn the grandiosity that its finale espouses. A great musical it is not; but a clever and charming one it certainly is.
The 45th Street Theatre (Mainstage)
354 West 45th Street
Wednesday, July 18th, 2012 at 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 18th, 2012 at 8 p.m.
Sunday, July 22nd, 2012 at 8 p.m.