A few times in Williamston’s world premiere “The Usual: A Musical Love Story” bartender Sam (Leslie Hull) breaks into this gigantic smile and you can tell that she’s loving every minute of it. She’s not the only one.
In what could be considered a love story for the digital age, the concept is simple. Lonely guy (Joseph Zettelmaier) meets girl (Emily Sutton-Smith) in a bar, they talk, become friends and the rest unfolds like most romantic comedies. While the concept may have been done before there are many things working for the Tony Caselli directed show to make sure it’s anything but ordinary.
For starters it’s a musical with book and lyrics by Alan Gordon and music by Mark Sutton-Smith. With song styles ranging from a fun upbeat girl trio to a solo number with a great jazzy feel the songs are as diverse as the lyrics in them. From the very first number you know you’re in for something special.
Of the three main characters Hull is the strongest singer, showcasing a solid voice that doesn’t leave your thoughts for some time after the show is over. She’s taken spunky bartender Sam, who could have been a background player, up front and center, watching as the two lovebirds finally figure out what they want. Hull also switches between characters with ease, playing everything from an online porn star to an animated computer game character, each with just as much gusto as the last.
While Zettelmaier and Sutton-Smith may not have the strongest voices their acting skills more than make up for it. With a chemistry that oozes across the stage they are a couple that’s easy for viewers to root for.
Zettelmaier plays computer geek Kip, or King of the Nerds as his co-workers refer to him. He’s played with so much likeability that you can’t help but wish you knew someone just like him and that he would fall in love you with. It’s great to watch him finally realize how he feels about Valerie and what ensues after that.
While Kip is a man that can’t get a date to save his life Sutton-Smith’s Valerie isn’t having any trouble finding them, it’s more a matter of finding ones that aren’t awful. Sutton-Smith makes Valerie her own, bringing along a lot of sarcastic humor that’s great to watch but also showing how big Valerie’s heart is. While there are many moments throughout when she shines Sutton-Smith really takes Valerie to another level in the second act when she’s trying to beat a computer game on her old school computer, in easily my favorite moment of the play.
It wouldn’t be a Williamston show without talking about how great the scenery is. Scenic designer Daniel Walker has made it so the bar has the ability to transform to everything from a room of hopeful “Real World” contestants to a video game. All of this is done with the simple changes that make a Williamston show so aesthetically pleasing to watch.
While this show is in its world premiere it’s easy to see that it won’t be one disappearing any time soon. Filled with people that you would gladly grab a drink with every week I sure hope that this becomes a usual in theatres across the country.
“The Usual” is playing at Williamston Theatre now until April 22.