36 Questions is a production written, created, and directed by Ellen Winter and Christopher Littler and produced by Two-Up Productions, the same team behind Limetown, the revered audio drama. This podcast is rather different than others in the medium, as this is a musical podcast in three acts. The show follows a married couple, Natalie and Jase, as they talk about their relationship, feelings, and ask each other the ’36 Questions that Lead to Love’.
Before 36 Questions, it was difficult to imagine a musical existing solely in audio form. Sure, there are other shows, like Welcome to Night Vale and Live From Here (formerly A Praire Home Companion), that have music components. And Broadway shows, like Hamilton, has these amazing cast albums that provide a unique experience and allows for people who can’t see the show to listen in. But these cast albums don’t exist solely on their own; there is still so much of the story and experience that can only happen in real life. Facial expressions from actors, set and costume design, and choreography all still play an important role in these shows. And other podcasts like Live From Here have music but they’re in no way a musical.
- 36 Questions Realizes the Potential of the Podcast Musical by Nicholas Quah, Vulture
But with this show, the production, the story set up, and acting allowed for a believable and utterly wonderful experience. It is essentially an actual musical, without the full stage production that the audience can see visually. And it’s able to accomplish this because the show exists on Natalie’s phone in her voice memos. The first act of the show also starts with other voice memos from Natalie’s phone, setting up the fact that recording audio (rather than video, etc) was something she did regularly. Those parts of the show (and current technology) allow for an audio-only musical to exist realistically.
- “36 Questions” Review (No Spoilers) by Wil Williams, Wil Williams Reviews
While 36 Questions does exist solely as audio, the voice acting from Jessie Shelton (Natalie) and Jonathan Groff (Jase) is phenomenal. Both Shelton and Groff are expressive in ways that allow for the show to feel intimate and real. In the midst of musical numbers and quacking from a pet duck named Henry, you feel like you’re really listening in on two people desperately trying to work through their issues, both as a couple and as an individual.
The sound design also allows for a level of authenticity, as there are background noises of a huge storm, rain, typing, and life in general. The design allows the audience to believe that the show could have been recorded on an iPhone in the midst of a storm or while at home or in public. And the songs and music also play a huge role in the success of this show. The music is a mix of jazz, ballards, and indie-pop and many of the songs are infectious earworms you can’t help but sing along to after a couple listens.
Everything with the production, acting, and writing allows for the show to feel like an intimate conversation with musical interludes that the audience is overhearing. The Podcast Mom has a post about her 36 thoughts on the 36 Questions Podcast Musical and said that “I felt like I was getting away with something getting to listen to a brand new gorgeous musical for free, like someone just handed me tickets to a Broadway show on the street something and all I had to do was listen to a few Hello Fresh ads.”.
*Spoilers below. I recommend listening to the show before reading the rest of this review.
At the core of the story, 36 Questions is about truth, reality, and how two people struggle with wanting a fairytale, romantic life and the reality of life. Jase and Natalie/Judith try to repair their relationship in the face of Judith’s underlying and complex lies about who she is but it becomes clear that both have their own issues to work through first. Judith desperately tries to run from her past while Jase can’t forget how she continues to lie even though he loves her so much. However, no amount of love or attraction can fix fundamental cracks in a relationship and Jase eventually walks away at the end of Act II
- 36 Questions (Review) by The Cambridge Geek
The show takes place over the course of eight years, with a large chunk of time happening off air between Act II and Act III. In the last act, Jase is still grappling with his feelings for Natalie/Judith, despite the time that’s happened, having a son with someone else, and another failed marriage. The last episode brings us a Jase and Judith who have grown since their break up years before but are fundamentally still the same people we heard from at the beginning. The show ends with the audience still wondering about a whole lot about the characters but ends in a way that doesn’t bring much closure. As Wil Williams wrote in her spoiler heavy review about the show:
There’s no post-credits epilogue, no last little taste of closure for the listener, because there shouldn’t be. The frustrating end is the point of the entire show: in failed relationships, there’s never really closure, especially when the love is still alive. The fairytale romance in the beginning of the show was just that: fiction.
If you aren’t already a fan of podcasts and/or musicals, this show may not be for you. But if you are a fan of those things, 36 Questions is an intimate portrayal of two people trying to understand themselves and their relationship in the midst of some life-changing revelations. With headphones in, it feels like you have a front row seat to this musical and at times, it even feels like you are right there with Jase and Judith as they struggle to understand each other and themselves.
Ultimately, 36 Questions is an emotional and well-produced show about relationships, love, and how we may never get closure in some of the most important but most complex moments of our lives. The entire show is around 155 minutes long (just over 2.5 hours), including a few ads, and would make for a great road trip listen (if you’re up for potentially getting emotional!). You can find the show wherever you listen to podcasts and the soundtrack is available on platforms like Apple Music and Spotify.