Charm is a difficult quality to pull off in the theatre, but FLY BY NIGHT, written by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock, is a truly charming, irony free two and a half hours with a tuneful score -- I dare you not to be humming one tune at the intermission and on your way out of the theatre. it isn't an adaptation of something else (three cheers for that) and has its own quirky style. A narrator (Henry Stram), moves our story back and forth in time and plays some supporting roles. Despite its zigzag structure, the story is quite simple and takes place over a year, ending n the night of the 1965 East coast blackout.
Harold, a sandwich maker, inherits his mother's guitar and tries, with limited success to become a songwriter. Along the way he meets and falls in love with two sisters from South Dakota; Daphne, an aspiring actress (Patti Murin) and Miriam (Allison Case), a waitress. Harold's widower father, who lives for his memories of his wife and her love for opera, won't go anywhere without his copy of LA TRAVIATA. An aspiring but inept playwright falls in love with Daphne and tries to write an epic musical, THE HUMAN CONDITION as a vehicle for her. All this sound like it could be too cute, but the writers and director, Carolyn Cantor, manage to keep the story afloat. The tuneful score and witty lyrics help, as do the delightful performances. It's worth the price of admission to watch Adam Chanler-Berat, who has one of the most expressive faces in contemporary theatre. He reacts precisely to everything that is happening. Patti Murin is a generic blond belter who seems to still be playing Glinda, but that's appropriate for Daphne. Allison Case brings out the attractiveness but basic sadness of Miriam. Peter Friedman and Michael McCormick make the most of their moments as Harold's father and his boss. I wish Bruce Ryness would stand up straight, but he's OK as the would-be playwright. Tone and style are everything in this type of wistful show and everyone here maintains the proper balance of honesty and sweetness. The simple physical production (Secne Design David Korins, lighting Jeff Croiter) is beautiful, eventually enveloping the entire theatre. There's an excellent four piece band on stage with the cast.
Some people don't take to a sweet, irony-free show. The TIMES reviewer grumbled, of course, though he didn't fully dismiss it. We loved it, and so did most of our audience, who did't want to let the performers go.
FLY BY NIGHT. Playwrights Horizons. June 14, 2014.