Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Fly By Night": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG !

The scores are in for the Opening Night World Premiere of Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick's new musical "Fly By Night."

Story: Very Good
Acting: Terrific
Music: Pretty Good

Act One is novel and exciting. The music pays off the action, there is plenty of humor and by intermission we still don't know what is going to happen. The table is set perfectly for Act Two.

Right now, Act Two takes a long time to get where it's going, but the blackout scene at the very end ties up most of the loose ends. The show's most meaningful song comes at the end, and you get to exit the theater humming the one riff from Act One that reappears constantly throughout the show. That a fortune teller would be the one who composes the riff makes perfect sense in the fantasy world presented.

We have a love triangle, composed of actress Daphne (Rachel Spencer Hewitt), her kid sister Miriam (Kristin Stokes) and sandwich maker Harold (Ian Leonard, who was so fantastic in TheaterWorks' recent [title of show].

We also have the aptly named Crabble (Michael McCormick), who owns the sandwich shop where Harold works; and Mr. McClam, Harold's father, whose ode to his deceased wife Cecily is the show stopper. Keith Pinto has a smaller part as Joey Storms, the failing playwright.

But good as they all are, the show is stolen -- hijacked -- run away with -- by Wade McCollum, who plays The Narrator. He narrates but he also sings, plays several characters, and puts his stamp on every bit of action. He is seldom off stage. Without the Narrator there is a simple love story; with him we are twisted into a different way of looking at the world.

It's a World Premiere, so there are problems. Right now the show is fantastical, but the music is not. Lyrics are clever, but the four piece rock and roll band isn't given much to play. This isn't fuddy-duddyism -- we love rock and roll as much as anyone and have the blown ear drums to prove it. We'd just like a few more songs as good as the last one.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Fly By Night" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE and a Big Fat Exclamation Mark. Having just seen Kim Rosenstock's "Tigers Be Still" we can feel her novelistic touches all over this libretto. The way the story weaves in and out of time is brilliant. The cast, with a special nod towards McCollum, is excellent and so is Bill Fennelly's direction, though we could see them taking a few more chances as time goes on, to match the off-world sense of the plot.

The BANGLE OF PRAISE is for the way they keep Mr. McClam from telling his story for almost two full acts. He tries, nobody will listen. We, like they, think he is just another tired old man living in the past. When he finally gets a chance, he turns out to have not a sleepy story but an incisive and heartfelt song to sing. The way they pace this moment is the stuff of terrific theater.

And the exclamation point: thanks to TheatreWorks for giving new shows a shot, first with the New Works Festival, where "Fly By Night" appeared in 2010, and then working with them to earn a place on the main stage.

"Fly By Night"
Lucie Stern Theatre
Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 13

(press photos by Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin)

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