Justin Guarini is hearing voices.
“In the beginning, I felt — and I still feel it somewhat now — a little schizophrenic,” says “American Idol” alum Justin Guarini, talking about his experience in the cast of “In Transit,” Broadway’s new — and first — a cappella musical.
The confusion, he explains, is due to the special earpieces the performers in the show must wear, which allow them to hear each other, and their offstage music supervisor, who gives opening pitches and basically “conducts” by voice.
Ordinarily, as anyone who’s sung a cappella in a school group or barbershop quartet knows, for bandless singers to hear the music and tempo, it’s usually best to stand in a horseshoe while someone with a pitch-pipe gives the opening note. But that’s not possible in a show depicting the wacky (and, yes, at times wonderful) world of the New York City subway system, where performers are constantly on the go, dancing, moving furniture, running up and down stairs — plus managing those backstage costume changes.
“I’m talking in a scene, and hear the supervisor in my ear giving someone a cutoff — ‘and three, four and off,’ ” Guarini imitates. Staying focused, he admits, is tough.
And then there’s the hefty amount of singing each performer is tasked with. They are, after all, their own pit orchestra.
“Every single sound you hear comes from a human being on that stage,” says Guarini. “It’s the most challenging show I’ve ever done.”
The show, a humorous and harmonic take on life in the subway, with its crowds, curious smells and unexpected heroes, is written by “Frozen’s” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth, directed by Kathleen Marshall, and opens at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Dec. 11. The all-important role of the earpiece here is pretty ironic, given how the show urges us to take off the headphones, look up from our devices and see what’s going on around us.
Guarini has been trying to live that in real life.
“Even in the grimiest subway station, you’ll usually find some interesting artwork, or someone playing music or dancing,” says Guarini. “There’s beauty all around us.”
Umm . . . even on the old N and R lines?
“If you look for it,” he says.
Or, in this case, listen.