City Paper is not for tourists
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
Remaining Performances: July 14 at 6:30 p.m. (tickets available here)
They Say: How do you move forward when you’re young, bright and full of debt? Original musical that follows the lives of four artists living and (begrudgingly) working in DC. Inspired by the musical styling of both Stephen Sondheim and Jay Z.
Amrita’s Take: For all of the recession-era graduates who opted for a safe, white-collar job in D.C. rather than risk the starving artist’s life in New York City or Los Angeles, Star Johnson’s earnest and high-energy musical will hit all the right chords. How To Quit Your Day Job follows a group of young 20-something friends in D.C. who, despite being employed and having a roof over their heads, are completely miserable.
Kate (Shannan E. Johnson) is your textbook D.C. workaholic: incapable of tearing herself away from her inbox and in denial of the fact that her student loans and empty wallet are leaving her short-changed, at least emotionally. Izzy (Janani Ramachandran), Kate’s best friend, is more blunt about how spiritually taxing she finds her K Street existence and yearns for the day when she can headline a Broadway musical. Izzy’s love interest is creative-writing-major-turned-accountant TJ (Vaughn Middler), whose deep passion for musical theater makes his chosen profession all the more depressing. Manny (Olufemi Daaka) is TJ’s slightly more grounded—yet no less lost—best friend. Unlike the other three, Manny’s goals are less self-serving, though he’s just as clueless about accomplishing them. Manny wants to revive the art world in Anacostia and stay true to his Chocolate City roots, even though he’s too young to have witnessed the darker chapters of its history. The four friends admit they need group therapy, but hey, nobody’s got the time for that! Instead they group chat and self-medicate with whiskey and marijuana. They go to staff meetings and review white papers and pay their Verizon bills. And even though they all pay their rent on time, I’m guessing their significantly more cash-strapped but cooler East Village counterparts wouldn’t trade lifestyles in a second.
The show’s pace starts out a bit awkward at first, much like its characters. References to Kanye West and Jay-Z come off as an attempt to lend the four friends a dose of street cred, but instead come off as trying too hard. What do you expect when you force twenty-somethings to wear Anne Taylor Loft and get really, really, into the Trans-Pacific Partnership? How To Quit gets out of its awkward funk with “Trust Fund Baby,” an R&B ballad that speaks truth to the tenuous relationship most 20-somethings have with our student loan collectors, and Johnson and Daaka are a transfixing duo. Middler is a gifted comedic actor and singer, and never forgoes one role in favor of the other. TJ’s love song to Broadway, “Stephen, Andy, Johnny, & Lin” will appeal to all the D.C. musical theater nerds who secretly blast songs from Spamalot and Spring Awakening on their iPhones while waiting for the Red Line. Daaka’s work has been featured in House of Cards, and his rap solo “Diamonds” is a solid yet brief showcase of his talents.
See it if: You need inspiration to quit your day job; you wish there were a way to make accounts payable sexy.
Skip it if: Obama just tapped you to be the next head of OPM (shhhhh…), and you just really need to focus on work right now.