VALLEY Arts Theatre Company is a new York company with personnel with roots in the York Orchard Musical Theatre Company who decided to branch out.
Company director Ben Papworth has put a generous donation from his late grandmother, Sheila Lemmon, into setting up the musical theatre enterprise, and he has worked in tandem with artistic director Megan Conway, musical director Ryan Durkan and technical director Luke Hutchinson to present Valley Arts' first show.
Sensibly, the company has not overstretched itself in terms of numbers and lavish deigns. Instead, it has favoured quality over quantity by choosing Adam Gwon's New York chamber musical for a cast of four, one piano, a bench, a few cardboard boxes and some fake tea lights.
The quality lies in the superb casting, the piano skills of Durkan and the New York wit, intelligence and humanity of Gwon's storytelling lyrics, allied to his way with a persuasive rather than pretty tune in this sung-through work. It is not too far fetched to suggest he could develop into the next Stephen Sondheim.
In a nutshell, Ordinary Days tells the overlapping stories of four young people struggling to connect, with each other, with themselves, but not with the audience members, who are seated around tables and on a mezzanine level in increasingly rapt attention.
The four's struggles do not extend to a lack of ability to say anything. Quite the reverse, in fact, in a storyline that asks us to "realise that the pieces of our lives, as jumbled as they may seem, do fit together, even if we have to shift our perspective to see it".
Gwon's characters are a loquacious lot: Sam Lightfoot-Loftus's Warren is a "professional cat sitter" for an incarcerated artist, who forlornly hands out flyers with goodwill messages for a better world, while Emma-Louise Lane's Deb is an angsty student with an overdue thesis, an attitude overload and over-fussy coffee demands.
Matthew Ainsworth's Jason is downsizing his possessions to move in with opera-trained Jess Main's rather too controlling Claire. He wants to marry; she wants an argument, or at least a difference of opinion, whether disputing the best choice of wine for a party or not sharing his vision for the future.
Under Conway's astute direction, all four give terrific, characterful vocal performances, topped by Lane's brilliant, comic debut in a principal role. Ordinary Days is anything but ordinary and is a fantastic, left-field pick for a first show. Valley Arts could not have made a better start.
Ordinary Days, Valley Arts Theatre Company, John Cooper Studio Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York, today and tomorrow at 7.30pm. Box office: thelittleboxoffice.com/valleyartstheatre