Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TOP PICK Off-Broadway Theater Review: Fly By Night

Adam Chanler-Berat and Patti Murin. Photo: Joan Marcus
Fly By Night
Conceived By Kim RosenstockWritten By Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock
Directed By Carolyn CantorTo Feature

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 
Instants, moments— 
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).

Christians might also like to know:
-- fortune telling
--God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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