When the revival of “Sunset Boulevard” opens on Broadway next year, it will boast the biggest ever orchestra for a show. But before that, a musical that uses no instruments at all is hitting the stage.
“In Transit” is the first fully acappella musical — that’s right, nothing but the actors’ voices — to make it to one of the sacred houses of Midtown. Curious about just how a concept like this will work? We asked Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the creator of “In Transit,” to tell us everything we need to know about this new kind of musical ahead of its Dec. 11 opening at Circle in the Square Theatre.
1. It’s got a top-notch creative team. Who better to take this leap than one of the lyricists behind “Let It Go,” one of the catchiest musical numbers of this century? That would also be Anderson-Lopez (she’s also currently adapting “Frozen” for Broadway 2018), who was among the show’s lyricists — along with some friends she met in (where else?) her acappella group.
“In my 20s, I found my best friends and co-writers Sara [Wordsworth], Russ [Kaplan] and James-Allen [Ford] through an acappella group,” she says. “That’s where what I like to call ‘theatricappella’ was born.” Also on the team is Deke Sharon, the vocal producer from “Pitch Perfect,” another fitting pick. They’re directed and choreographed with “wit and creative whimsy” by two-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall.
2. It takes place on the subway. As the name suggests, “In Transit” is a show about going places. Eleven characters (led by “American Idol” Justin Guarini and Telly Leung, returning to the stage where he starred in “Godspell”) step onto the subway and find their lives intersecting and changing in unanticipated ways, an anthem to the anything-can-happen nature of NYC.
In another feat of staging ingenuity a la the turntable of “Hamilton,” a treadmill runs through the center, helping bring to life the illusion of moving down the tracks — whether it’s in your commute or in life. Anderson-Lopez sums up the message of the show as: “the people and connections on the journey are just as important as the destination itself.”
3. It’s staged “in the round.”Those lucky enough to catch “Fun Home” will be familiar with the unique layout of Circle in the Square. It’s a challenging venue to conquer, but for an acappella show, those challenges quadruple. Singers rely on their proximity to one another to find their pitch. Helping 11 singers harmonize across a room was a challenge not only for Marshall, but also for the sound designers tasked with making sure each audience member receives the optimum experience.
“Ken Travis, our sound guy, had to invent technology to pull this off,” Anderson-Lopez says. Also referencing “The Encounter,” the immersive play that has viewers wear headphones, she adds, “This year makes a great case for reinstating the Tony Award for sound design. Ken’s team deserves all the awards, plus a trip to Disney World!”
4. It works as your family’s holiday show.If you have to satisfy a picky audience at home, “In Transit” might be your saving grace. “I’ve had Baby Boomers tell me this show is the best thing they’ve seen in a long time. Twentysomethings say, ‘Have I been spying on them?’ And I’ve had an entire row of 12-year-olds tell me they liked it as much as ‘Hamilton’ — which is really the best you could ask,” says Anderson-Lopez.
Plus, it’s got that holiday spirit: “It’s joyful and heartfelt. It’s about laughing at life’s obstacles and tuning into the harmony all around you to find your way.”