With its production of “Fly by Night,” a new musical first produced a couple of years ago by New York’s Playwrights Horizons, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre is clearly trying to do something a little different — moving beyond both its superb, freshly intimate takes on Broadway classics and its charming musical revues to include lesser known contemporary works.
A worthy effort, to be sure. And as always at this award-winning theater, the performers (under the direction of Fred Anzevino, and with superb music direction by Jeremy Ramey) are charming, talented and full of heart. But “Fly by Night” — the work of Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock — leaves much to be desired. Too precious by half, and too long by a solid hour (it runs two and a half hours), it taps into the familiar tale of young dreamers who arrive from the hinterlands to forge their futures in New York. Once there they face a slew of problems both romantic and career-related, and also encounter some of the “natives,” whose lives are as sad and unsatisfying as their own.
The rather wispy scenario here is not all that different from the one in “Wonderful Town,” currently running at the Goodman Theatre. But its heavily overplotted script (narrated by Jordan Phelps) is glued together with a large helping of pseudo-mysticism and far too many wondrous coincidences. And its creators have tied all the story’s loose ends together by homing in on the “blackout of 1965,” the massive early evening power outage in the Northeast that, as it did in real life, brings many things to a temporary stop, including New York City. (I remember it primarily because my father had to walk home from Manhattan, crossing the 59th Street Bridge and then trekking the many miles to our apartment in Queens.)
“Fly by Night” begins at a funeral in Brooklyn, as Mr. McClam (Sean Thomas) buries his beloved wife, Cecily (a music lover whose favorite opera was “La traviata”). He is accompanied by his only child, Harold (James Romney), a young man at loose ends. Harold, whose dream is to be a songwriter, pays his rent by working in a deli called Sandwich Snadwich (its sign has a typo) that is run by crabby Crabble (Daniel Waters), a man who would far prefer to be an air traffic controller.
‘FLY BY NIGHT’
When: Through Nov. 6
Where: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 6970 N. Glenwood
Tickets: $34 – $39 (with optional dinner $25)
Info: (800) 595-4849;
Run time: 2 hours
and 30 minutes with one intermission
Meanwhile, back in a small town in South Dakota, the adventurous, determined Daphne (Meredith Kochan) decides that if she is ever to have a career on Broadway she had better get to New York. And she convinces her slightly older, more sensitive sister, Miriam (Kyrie Anderson, so memorable as Mrs. Johnstone in Theo Ubique’s “Blood Brothers”) — who happily works as a pancake house waitress — to drive East in the family’s old Chrysler.
Daphne ends up selling apparel in a Manhattan shop, where she meets Joey Storms (Jonathan Stombre), the wealthy if less than gifted son of a fabled Broadway family, and he soon asks her to star in a new, forever unfinished musical he’s writing. As for romance, she has already met Harold, and the two quickly declared the other to be “More Than Just a Friend.” Meanwhile, Miriam commutes to Brooklyn to work as a waitress, encounters a fortune teller (Phelps) and just happens to serve coffee to Harold’s dad, who is lonely and grieving and has little contact with his son.
Along the way, Harold also meets Miriam, unaware she is Daphne’s sister, and the two fall in love. When Miriam realizes she loves the same man as her sister, she is distraught and heads home to South Dakota. The show’s plot, however, just keeps going on and on.
Romney’s boyish manner, strong voice and guitar-playing are a perfect match for Harold. The strong-voiced Kochan is full of drive as the self-centered Daphne. Anderson brings her beautiful voice and lovely honesty to Miriam. And Waters provides comic relief as Crabble, particularly in “Eternity,” when, knives in hand, he teams with Harold for a litany of “meat, cheese, mayo, lettuce.” But for all its good intentions, “Fly by Night” never quite achieves liftoff.