A Stellar Message We Hope Rides on Every Broadway Shooting Star
By: Lauren Yarger
In the span of a year between Nov. 9, 1964 and 1965, a lot happens: people fall in and out of love, leave home and return, find jobs and quit, live and die and there are moments of blessings and of curse before a blackout sinks the northeast into darkness.
In the span of the two and a half hours it takes to tell the stories in Fly By Night, getting its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons, I fell in love with Kim Rosenstock, who conceived the musical, and Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick who wrote it with her.
Rarely are we treated to such a sharply written, enjoyable journey on the stage. It’s exciting, like a shooting star on which we wish all Broadway musicals would catch a ride.
And stars do figure prominently in this tale of two sisters, a father and son, a playwright and a shopkeeper all trying to find their way in the dark.
Beautiful Daphne wants to be a star — on Broadway. She packs her bags, bids her mother and small-town South Dakota goodbye, and heads out the door. In tow is her sister, Miriam (Allison Case), who really is quite content being a waitress in the small town where she can remember nights with her father gazing at the stars. She’s a star too — but because she is made up of particles from the supernova that created everything.
Daphne has a bad feeling about being in New York. It grows stronger when she encounters a gypsy fortune teller (played by Henry Stram, who as narrator, jumps in to play any characters needed to help tell the story) She predicts three signs and a great love for Miriam, followed by tragedy.
Meanwhile, Daphne finds love with Harold McClam (Adam Chanler-Berat) , who hopes to become a musician — once he learns to play more than one note on the guitar that was his mother’s. Her death has caused a chasm between him and his father, (Peter Friedman), who loses himself in her memory by carrying around a recording of La traviata that once meant something to him and his wife.
Harold does write a song about being a turtle (backed up by Foe Destroyer, a five-member band directed by Vadim Feichtner), but spends most of his time at his day job, making sandwiches for boss Crabble (Michael McCormick), who’s got "hum drum" down to a science.
Dahpne’s dreams of leaving her mundane job as a coat salesperson and becoming a star just might come true when Joey Storms (Bryce Ryness) falls for her and casts his muse as the lead in the new play he is writing and producing. Constant rehearsals keep her away from Harold, however, and he finds himself gravitating toward a star-crossed relationship with Miriam.
Carolyn Cantor brilliantly directs a luminous cast. The play bursts with creativity as time shifts between past and present (quite effectively). The dialogue and lyrics offer insight and soothing rhythms. The narrator tells us:
Long wide stretches of the ordinary
Spinning circles as this life rolls on
From the cradle to the cemetery
Just get through until tomorrow’s dawn
Then, a burst-a soaring peak, a sudden drop
Best, or worst-don’t let it end, please make it stop
One flickering flame of light-
Simply beautiful. Then, at the other end of the spectrum (blunt and crass), his oft-repeated mantra of sandwich making — "Mayonnaise meat cheese ‘n lettuce" — creates a Crapple who is simultaneously minstrel, prophetic, humorous and sad. His duet with Harold about the sandwich-making routine is a hoot.
Cantor also assembles an excellent creative team to help propel the story with a lesson about how we all are connected and about how what we do on earth isn’t nearly as important as with whom we do it. We love these characters and root for them. At intermission, audience members were discussing what they hoped would happen and humming the tunes.
A scene between Harold and his father, beautifully acted, is one of them most touching I have witnessed on stage.
The ‘6os period costumes (designed by Paloma Young) keep us anchored in time without making the show about the era and Lighting Designer Jeff Croiter, turns steps into bedrooms and the entire theater into a galactic wonder.
And if that’s not enough, the simple tunes give characters a chance to shine (Sound Designers Ken Travis and Alex Hawthorn create the right mix) with non-intrusive choreography by Sam Pinkleton.
This one is stellar — so much so that at the final curtain, I thought about buying a ticket to go back and see it again. It gets Top Pick Status.
Fly By Night plays through June 29 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7, Thursdays and Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm. Single tickets are $80-95; www.TicketCentral.com; 212-279-4200 (noon-8 pm daily); Box Office, 416 West 42nd St. (between 9th and 10th avenues).
Photo: Joan Marcus