“36 Questions” – Podcast Review

Podcasts are becoming an increasingly popular media form.  They’re incredibly easy to make, cheap to produce, and easy to access.  There are podcasts from everything about history to Dungeons and Dragons to The Bachelor.  It makes sense that eventually musicals would find their way to the medium.  “36 Questions”, a podcast in three acts written by Chris Littler and Ellen Winter, brings an original, scripted musical to life using nothing but two voices, a duck, and some added sound effects.  And for being so simple, this is a podcast that is definitely full of life.
The basic plot of “36 Questions” focuses on a husband and wife, Jase Connolly and Judith Ford.  With their marriage on the brink of divorce due to a gigantic lie, they return to what made their relationship flourish in the first time: a series of thirty-six questions developed by psychologists and relationship experts that, supposedly, can make two strangers fall in love.  Judith records their conversations as voice memos on her phone to hold herself accountable for the conversation, and with that, we have the reason as to why their intimate conversations are available for us to listen to.
Littler and Winter are two practically unknown composers and writers, but they definitely have a knack for writing a catchy tune.  None of the music is that interesting or complex, but the simplicity of it works well with the simplicity of the medium with which they chose to present the show.  The conflict between Judith and Jase is slowly built, leaving the audience engaged but not confused.  And having it in such an intimate setting, such as your headphones at the gym, makes it feel as though you truly are a fly on the wall during their conversations.  The sounds of the Jase’s fixer-upper house following apart, making it clear when one of the characters are walking away from the recording phone, and the sounds of a surrounding storm make it all that much more real.
Most importantly, Littler and Winter got some serious talent and star power for their project.  Jessie Shelton (“Hadestown”), an up and coming Broadway star, and Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton”, “Spring Awakening”, “Frozen”), one of the biggest names to come off of Broadway in recent years.  The chemistry of Shelton and Groff is off the charts.  Using just their voices, (both speaking and singing), you can feel the hurt between them, but also the love.  You understand why Jase would consider getting back with Judith even after her lying about her life.  And they both have beautiful voices, which is necessary when the podcast relies on their voices.  Shelton has a sort of indie, Ingrid Michaelson style voice, while Groff has a contemporary baritone that is familiar to so many Broadway fans.  They both sound incredibly earnest and manage to impart so much accurate and meaningful emotions into the incredibly catchy songs.  Because, in case it hasn’t been made clear, the songs have hooks that will be in your head for days.
Is this a perfect musical?  No.  For every two catchy songs, there’s one that is completely unmemorable.  The ending leaves a little bit to be desired, falling back on tropes that are suddenly becoming popular in mainstream musicals.  And if you’re not interested in musicals, this isn’t the one that will get you interested in them.  But it does represent an interesting twist in the future of musical theatre and gives a way for people to listen to and witness a musical in its own original terms without having to pay big money to go to Broadway.  Littler and Winter, along with Groff and Shelton, have succeeded in making an entertaining and original podcast.