Adam Gwon has a minor case of stage fright.
The Baltimore-raised composer and lyricist of the musical “Ordinary Days” says he’s happy — but also anxious — that his show, which made its off-Broadway debut in 2009, is being produced in the area for the first time.
Some friends and family who missed the musical’s run with New York’s Roundabout Theatre will finally get a chance to see it. But the deeply personal show, Gwon says, is “sort of like being in a room with my friends and family, naked. It’s both exciting and a little bit terrifying.”
Exciting and terrifying, however, are feelings Gwon and the four characters in “Ordinary Days” have dealt with before. The plot may sound familiar — young adults trying to navigate careers and relationships in the Big Apple — but every New York story is as different as the city’s eight million residents.
In Gwon’s own personal New York story, he was a recent graduate trying to make ends meet while launching a career in musical theater when he got a break — a fellowship with the Dramatists Guild. That opportunity was the genesis of “Ordinary Days,” a stripped-down musical in which there is only song and a piano, with no spoken dialogue.
“I felt like I was wearing lots of hats, and at that moment it felt like none of those pieces were coming together in a cohesive life story,” Gwon, 34, says by phone from New York. “The characters in ‘Ordinary Days’ find themselves faced with a similar dilemma. They are ambitious, striving and forward thinking, but at the same time, feel very stuck. . . .
“These characters are figuring out how to get unstuck, and for me, writing this show was figuring out how to get unstuck.”
The musical, praised in the New York Times for its “crisp, fluid and often funny lyrics,” follows Deb (Erin Weaver), a graduate student who loses a notebook she needs for her thesis, and Warren (Samuel Edgerly), a struggling artist who finds it. Warren is a semi-autobiographical character.
“He, very much like me, is an optimist to a fault. He sees the good in everyone and is willfully oblivious to obstacles that stand in his way,” Gwon says. “Something that I explored and sort of figured out is that it is possible for optimism to be complicated. . . . That was a surprising discovery for me to make, particularly as I was writing the character of Warren.”
There’s also the parallel story of Jason (Will Gartshore) and Claire (Janine DiVita), who are trying to let go of relationship baggage after moving in together. Claire sings the show’s signature number, “I’ll Be Here,” which touches upon another critical part of the New York experience: The events of Sept. 11, 2001. Gwon says it felt risky, but honest, to address the attacks gently, without making them the centerpiece of the musical.
“It’s one of many events that make this place the place that it is,” he says. “I wanted to capture that feeling with those people — it was an event that happened to them, but not the defining event of their life stories. . . . Lives have more chapters than that.”
Gwon, who has composed four more musicals since “Ordinary Days,” calls the city a fifth character. But just because “Ordinary Days” takes place there, it doesn’t mean 20-somethings in Washington won’t relate.
“It’s a fear that I had when I had written the show,” he says. “I wondered: ‘Do people outside of New York care about this story? Do people older than their 30s care about these characters and what they’re wrestling with?’ ”
The answer, Gwon says, was a resounding yes.
“Something about the human interactions in the show transcend the place it’s set in, which is so moving to me, because ultimately, that’s what the show is about,” he says. “It’s about connecting to the people around them, and the place that they’re in.”
Wednesday-June 22 at Round House Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Hwy., Bethesda. 240-644-1100. www.roundhousetheatre.org. $10-$45.