Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
This musical fable spans one year, and follows a humdrum guy who makes sandwiches at a Brooklyn deli as his life intersects with two sisters newly arrived from South Dakotaone a fresh-faced singer/actress and the other a waitress content with life. An unexpected love triangle seems unavoidable as fate takes hold (as prophesied by a fortune teller), and the action culminates during the Northeast blackout of 1965. The show played Off-Broadway in 2014 and has had a number of regional productions since.
Fly by Night was conceived by Kim Rosenstock and written by Rosenstock, Will Connolly, and Michael Mitnick. The score contains many peppy, upbeat melodies in the style of early rock and rockabilly, with solid, descriptive lyrics written to meet the musical theater standards of true rhymes (a feature unfortunately seen less and less these days). Song highlights include "More Than Just a Friend," "Pulled Apart," and "I Need More," a performance song for the actress character named Daphne that also doubles to describe her current personal dilemma.
The storytelling is the "somewhat frustrating and flawed" portion of the material. The base story is a modern(ish) fable following the three main protagonists, as well as a narrator and three secondary characters. There's a lot of narration used, and used quite effectively. However, that same narration, coupled with jumps in the timeline back and forth, lead to inefficiency in the presentation of the tale. The show is long (more than the stated 2:20) and at times feels even longer. That isn't to say it is boring, because it's not. Rather, Fly by Night is a fairly simple story told in a complicated manner. There's intrigue, romance, comedy, and thought-provoking themes, and the characters are likeable, multi-layered and relatable. So, it's all the more frustrating when the audience is presented with a sad ending. It may be the appropriate ending, but it's a rough payoff for theatergoers after a long se- up.
Story issues aside, Fly by Night is given a stellar mounting at ETC. Director D. Lynn Meyers provides a thoughtful and tender tone to the piece which feels just right, and the transitions and blocking are wonderful. The limited yet apt choreography is by Patti James, and Scott Wooley gets praiseworthy results from both the singers and the band as music director.
The seven-member cast is top-notch as well. As Harold, Michael Gerard Carr sings beautifully (and plays a mean guitar), and captures both the reluctance and then hope of new love (two times over). Maya Farhat brings needed depth to Daphne (a role that could easily be performed as one-note) and likewise supplies remarkable vocals. Brooke Steele is extremely endearing as waitress Miriam and is great in both the singing and acting of the show's most challenging role.
Nathan Robert Pecchia is delightful as the Narrator, showcasing strong vocals and a natural charm throughout, and capably portraying numerous one-off characters as well. Phil Fiorini is heartwarming as Harold's father (and shows off some operatic vocal chops), and Michael G. Bath and Patrick Earl Phillips both get lots of laughs in support. All seven are ETC regulars in their musicals and are a talented group.
Brian C. Mehring's set and lighting is enchanting, with three overlapping circles at slightly different heights as the performance space, allowing smaller set pieces and props to glide on. The varied lighting is perfect for the mood of the piece, and adds to the whimsical feel of the show. Costume designer Reba Senske only supplies one costume each for most of the cast, but those are all period appropriate and well suited. Matt Callahan's sound is well-balanced and clear.
Fly by Night isn't a perfect show, though it may feel so at times. The individual parts are very strong, but the sum is less than its parts in this case. Still, there is much to admire, especially those specific to this staging, including a splendid cast.
Fly by Night, through September 29, 2018, at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Cincinnati OH. For more information, visit www.ensemblecincinnati.org or call 513-421-3555.