Fly By Night
By Bev Wolfe
Fly by Night opened at the Jungle Theater this past weekend. The musical was conceived by Kim Rosenstock, and was written and composed by Rosenstock, Will Connolly, and Michael Mitnick. Jungle Theatre’s Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen directs this ambitious show that boasts a wonderful cast, great musicians and some great comedic scenes. But overall the musical is too long and is bloated with unnecessarily repetitive scenes.
The show consists of six characters and a narrator (Jim Lichtscheidl) with story lines that intersect over the course of a year and culminates when these characters are all caught in the 1965 blackout on the Eastern Coast. The show begins with Harold McClam (Chris Koza) and his father Mr. McClam (James Detmar) as they attend the funeral of Harold’s mother. Both men are grief stricken. The father is comforted by listening to the recording of an opera that he and his wife attended on their first date. When he is not home listening to the opera, he is walking around New York carrying his phonograph. Harold finds comfort in his late mother’s guitar and spends his time attempting to write songs.
Harold is a sandwich maker by day and he works for Grabble (Joy Dolo). Both hate spending their days making sandwiches and Grabble dreams of the days she was an air traffic controller for the military during World War II. Meanwhile, somewhere in South Dakota is Daphne (Leah Anderson), a local star in high school and community theater who decides to drive to New York City to become a Broadway star. She makes her sister Miriam (Royer Bockus), a woman who loves being a waitress, come with her to New York. Daphne works in a coat store while Miriam happily works the graveyard shift at a greasy spoon.
Daphne meets Harold and they start dating. Because Miriam is always working nights, she does not get a chance to meet Harold until he comes into her diner just hours after he proposed to Daphne. Before she knows it, she helps him write a song and falls in love, unaware that he is the Harold her sister is going to marry. Oh, before I forget, Daphne is discovered by Joey Storms (Joshua James Campbell), a would-be Broadway producer, who casts her as the lead in his new musical The Human Condition and they rehearse the show for close to a year. I cannot tell you any more about the plot without being a spoiler, but what I have told you brings you up to about intermission time.
The second half, which is really the best part of the musical, deals with the increasingly boring relationship between Harold and Daphne. Harold becomes a pathetic excuse for a son; neglecting his grief stricken father. Miriam’s self-sacrificing ways to avoid hurting her sister succeeds in making everyone unhappy.
Lichtscheidl as the narrator is superb. He easily slips into multiple characters and keeps the musical moving from scene to scene. Koza’s singing really elevates the role of Harold. Anderson as Daphne is a wonderful singer, but she is trapped in a stereotypical role. Dolo as Harold’s boss is a blast whenever she is on stage. My personal favorite is the long-suffering Miriam whose innocent delivery of lines is perfect for bringing out the show’s humor.
A big plus are the local musicians who provide the shows music. Koza is a local singer-songwriter who frequently performs in the Twin Cities. John Munson who is a member of Semisonic, The New Standards and The Twilight Hours, serves as both musical consultant and the on-stage bass player. Finally, Mark Christine, who is based in New York, serves as both the conductor and keyboardist for the production.
Joseph Stanley’s multi-layered set with its upper and lower levels and performance areas on both the right and left side seems too much for the play. But when the lights go out, it is perfect to see how everyone intersects and respond to the power outage.
The musical takes itself too seriously with heavy themes when its best features are its songs and comic lines. But the biggest drawback is the show’s length. On opening night, it approximated two hours and forty minutes with intermission. Condensing the musical to ninety minutes would serve to highlight the parts that work best and eliminate the repetitive scenes. This show has a lot working for it, but a revamping of the plot could make it magical.
The show runs at the Jungle Theater through July 23, 2017.
2951 Lyndale Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Box Office: (612)822-7063