“ExtraOrdinary” a fitting title for musical theater showcase at American Repertory Theater

Raider Times photo / Gretjen Helene Photography
The cast of “ExtraOrdinary” at the American Repertory Theater through Nov. 30, 2018.

Leyla Mandel and Lana Taffel

“ExtraOrdinary” is a celebratory performance to commemorate the last 10 years of musical theater at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.

“ExtraOrdinary” is essentially a collection of songs performed by some members of the original casts. Listening to this performance was similar to seeing a musical. If you enjoy musical theater, you will certainly get a kick out of this. The music, cast, and overall show pander to those who love and know musicals well.

Songs were included from “Pippin,” “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” “Witness Uganda,” “Jagged Little Pill,” “The Black Clown,” “Burn All Night,” “The Blue Flower,” “Cabaret,” “Finding Neverland,”  “Prometheus Bound,” “Waitress,” “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” “Once,” and “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie.”

One does not need to have seen the musicals that songs were performed from, as we have not seen most of them and still enjoyed ourselves greatly.

Raider Times photo / Gretjen Helene Photography
Melody A. Betts in “ExtraOrdinary” at the American Repertory Theater through Nov. 30, 2018.

By the end of the show, our reaction to this experience was pure amazement. We had no idea what we had just watched, but loved it all the same. So much had happened in the 2 1/2 hours we stayed in the theater that walking out into the real world almost felt strange. The performers and songs pulled us in, we felt we were in a different world filled with only musical theater.

“ExtraOrdinary” explores the importance of musical theater and its effect on each of the performers in the cast. The blend of such diverse performers made for a more complete picture of the essential nature of centers such as the A.R.T.

The starred main cast consists of Matthew James Thomas (“Pippin”), MJ Rodriguez (“Burn All Night”), Bryonha Marie Parham (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”), Brandon Michael Nase (“The Black Clown”), Terrence Mann (“Pippin”), Kathryn Gallagher (“Jagged Little Pill”), and Melody A. Betts (“Witness Uganda”).  There was also a special guest when we saw the show, Patina Miller of “Pippin.”

They told personal stories, including about their first show, what got them into the business, as well as how their specific shows impacted their life. By the end, we felt we had made a personal connection and understood were they were coming from.

Raider Times photo / Gretjen Helene Photography
Brandon Michael Nase and Mj Rodriguez in “ExtraOrdinary” at the American Repertory Theater through Nov. 30, 2018.

The most notable impressive aspect of the show was the singing. The quality of the cast’s voices was consistently glorious and moving to listen to. Their voices were quite different from one another, but they performed amazingly independently and blended wonderfully. Having listened to the original recordings of some of the songs, it was amazing to hear them in person.

The message and presentations preceding or following the songs were fitting and moving. It conveyed well how the art of musical theater had given a lot to the performers. Patina Miller did an impressive rendition of her Leading Player’s “Simple Joys”with incredibly difficult choreography.

Something that was uniquely fun to experience was the large amount of songs from “Pippin”. Being in the 2018 Watertown High production of “Pippin” helped us enjoy hearing the very songs that had been listened to and sung. It was fun to pick out the parts we recognized from the WHS production.

Raider Times photo / Gretjen Helene Photography
Patina Miller, a guest performer in “ExtraOrdinary” at the American Repertory Theater through Nov. 30, 2018.

Terrence Man, Matthew James Thomas, and Patina Miller were all leads in “Pippin” whose voices we were familiar with. This gave us a chance to reminisce on the experiences from the show, an experience in itself.

The band was also particularly impressive, with the trumpet player having many long solos. The acknowledgment of the importance of the band is essential in a show about appreciating musical theater. In essence, there is a magic to experiencing musical theater in person, being able to experience the emotion of another person through music. “ExtraOrdinary” is truly a show that one could see over and over again, just in the way we listen to songs over and over again.

More collective songs would have made the night more symbiotic, as the most intense moments were generally among strong planned harmonies. A few more full-cast songs would have given a stronger sense of teamwork. Even so, there were solid full-cast and individual songs that kept us hanging on each note.

Raider Times photo / Gretjen Helene Photography
Bryonha Marie Parham in “ExtraOrdinary” at the American Repertory Theater through Nov. 30, 2018.

Although this show is a high spirits, with energetic performances, full of singing and dancing, we would not recommend it to those bringing their young children, as its aimed more toward an older crowd. The show is very fast paced, and hard for someone young to keep up with, and some of the topics of the songs are a bit complicated. Not to mention, the show is at night and is quite lengthy, with a 15-minute intermission, not ideal for a younger audience.

By the end of the show we, as were most of the audience members, ready to jump on stage and dance alongside the cast. In a way, this experience was almost better than seeing a Broadway play, because of the fact that here we were able to experience many different types of songs, actors, and moods, which all came together to make something entirely new and different, but at the same time beautiful.

(“ExtraOrdinary” runs until Nov. 30, 2018. For information or tickets, go to the A.R.T. website  at https://americanrepertorytheater.org/.)

Raider Times photo / Gretjen Helene Photography
Kathryn Gallagher (left) and Brandon Michael Nase in “ExtraOrdinary” at the American Repertory Theater through Nov. 30, 2018.

–Nov. 21, 2018–