It seems the folks over at the American Repertory Theater have racked up a lot to be thankful for in the decade since Diane Paulus became the company’s artistic director. ExtraOrdinary, a collection of songs and talents from the 30-some musicals produced during her tenure, revels in a contagious self-satisfaction that’s hard to resist. Having churned out a treasure trove of New York-bound hits, there were certainly enough successes to merit revisiting, and in such affable company, why not indulge in a little celebration?
Directed by Paulus, the revue weaves songs in and out of a book assembled by Dick Scanlan from interviews with the cast, each of whom has performed in past A.R.T. productions. Once bleeds into Pippin into Finding Neverland as the seven cast members share stories from their time at the Cambridge institution, tipping their hats to the diversity and artistic freedom they encountered.
The cheerful diversity found across the A.R.T’s body of work in the last decade is matched onstage by a refreshingly diverse cast, as distinct in their personal identities as in their abilities. Onstage together for the duration of the show, they create a lovely sense of professional harmony as they play off each other’s voices and anecdotes. When a cast member announces Brandon Michael Nase’s (Prometheus Bound) upcoming paternity, it’s hard not to smile at their camaraderie. As joyful as their group numbers are, it is during their times alone in the spotlight that each actor makes the most of their talent.
Bryonha Marie Parham (The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess) takes an early lead with a sumptuous “Summertime”; MJ Rodriguez (Burn All Night and Trans Scripts: Part 1: The Women) bridges her speech about refusing to get boxed in by labels into a high-energy pop-synth number from the pop-synth musical; Melody A. Betts (Witness Uganda) brings the house down with “Bela Musana”; and Kathryn Gallagher (Jagged Little Pill) leads the cast in a sweet rendition of “This Land Is Your Land,” from Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie, emphasizing a seldom-performed verse regarding the nation’s homeless. Nase, Terrence Mann (Finding Neverland) and Matthew James Thomas (Pippin) all deliver equally stellar, if less flashy, work.
If there are fan favorites seemingly missing from the production—Waitress and Jagged Little Pill are given somewhat short shrift—its brisk two-hour runtime doesn’t allow much time for complaining. As if the condensed hit parade weren’t enough of a whirlwind, the core company will be periodically aided by special guests from A.R.T. productions past. Patina Miller appeared during opening night, with Alicia Hall Moran, Norm Lewis, Rachel Bay Jones, and Lea DeLaria enlisted for future performances.
Joined by Thomas for a show-stopping “On the Right Track,” Miller (Pippin) flexed her star muscles, still intact from when she took her charmingly devilish Leading Player to Tony glory in 2013. Flashing her winning smile, she hit every mark of the Fosse-inspired choreography before reappearing for an electrifying curtain call performance of “You Oughta Know.”
For a show titled ExtraOrdinary, it doesn’t try to cover up its barely there structure with costumes or sets. The cast is as plainly dressed as their backdrop, adorned only by the onstage band and few, intelligently deployed props. Stripped of extravagance, the revue makes its case as a celebration of 10 years of diverse Diane Paulus theatricality and more than backs it up through sheer talent.
EXTRAORDINARY. THROUGH 11.30 AT LOEB DRAMA CENTER. 64 BRATTLE ST., CAMBRIDGE. AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.ORG