As New York City workers, tourists, and commuters go about their daily life, heading for the subway, gathering on an already crowded platform and eventually boarding their train, you can hear the sound of the orchestra warming up, readying for performance. “In the city’s underground,” sings Lloyd, the homeless guy (Giancarlo Esposito), “There’s a symphony of sound.”
Adapted from the stage musical of the same name, Stuck tells of six strangers unexpectedly stranded together for a while in an NYC subway. It began as a normal day, but once that train stalled in the middle of a tunnel, those six passengers, people who ordinarily wouldn’t even have noticed each other, find themselves forced to talk. “Everyone has a story,” Lloyd continues, singing as if he’s the train’s unofficial MC. Throughout the following sixty minutes plus, each of those six will tell theirs, some more willingly than others.
For those who live in an urban area and regularly ride the underground, you’ll know what it’s like to suddenly have the train stop. It’s frustrating, particularly when you have a deadline and everything hangs on your prompt arrival. Plus, when it’s underground, there’s nowhere to go. It’s not as if you can get off and walk. And from experience, you rarely know the reason. It could be a signal problem. Perhaps it’s an issue with the train in front resulting with everything behind having to grind to a halt. Whatever caused the situation, you’re rarely told; it just happens. And it frays nerves, which is what it does here.
Once Lloyd finishes using his area of the long, slim carriage as his personal bathroom – he freshens up, clips his toenails, brushes his teeth in full view of the other five – he gets the conversation rolling by doing what he presumably has to do above ground: he panhandles while quoting passages from Hamlet. “I’ll give you money if you stop it,” says budding comic book artist Caleb (Gerard Canonico).
In their way, the six passengers cover the city’s cultural makeup of race and class. In addition to Esposito’s homeless Lloyd and Canonico’s shy white guy Caleb, there’s singer/songwriter Ashanti as Eve, Arden Cho as the dancer of Korean heritage Alicia, Omar Chaparro as undocumented immigrant Ramon, and Amy Madigan as the sad and aging Sue. Through song, each will reveal their story, some with humor – Caleb’s comic book superhero comes alive with Magnificent Maggie – and some with heartache – Sue’s Gone reflecting the passing of her son is both heartfelt and genuinely affecting.
Shot widescreen by cinematographer Luke Gelssbuhler and well-framed throughout, though the six passengers are confined to a restricted area for the duration of their time together, the letterbox presentation allows the impression of space. They may feel cramped, but physically they’re far from each other so that when one character gets too close and angrily faces another, the illusion of personal space being invaded is all the more effective.
The pop/rock score, with styles that reflect the character singing it, is good, co-composed by Riley Thomas, Ben Maughan, and Tim Young with additional work by Ashanti who is given credit for her song Make It Better. The film, directed by Phoenix valley native Michael Berry who also directed the stage version at the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2012, sticks close to its theatrical counterpart but expands in areas that can only work on film.
When Sue sings of her loss, Stuck cuts back to moments of seeing her son by the piano (played by co-songwriter Tim Young) adding a level of poignancy that might have been absent from the play. Plus, when Ashanti performs Make It Better, the sequence with flashbacks reveals a full backstory of Eve’s current situation in the way a quality music video might, edited together with cinematic flair.
Particularly good is the climactic Try sung by the whole cast, where emotions rise and voices soar as certain realizations of personal truths never before considered now surface. Eventually, things will get moving again. The train will arrive, and the six passengers will finally get off at their various stops along the route, late for wherever they were supposed to be. Most will never see each other again. But having spent that time together stranded, there’s developed an emotional connection that will somehow resonate for each of them in ways that have yet to occur. Their lives have suddenly become that little bit richer for having met each other. And, as a consequence of seeing this slight but affecting short musical, so have ours.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 83 Minutes