Fly By Night, the new musical from Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock, makes its New York debut in a stunning production at Playwrights Horizons. Centered around two families—one from Brooklyn, the other from South Dakota—Fly By Night explores love, death, heartbreak, and fortune through a love triangle between a sandwich maker, his starlet girlfriend and her practical sister.
Set between November 1964 and November 1965, though very much of the 21st century in its structure and language and tropes, Fly By Night introduces us to its story through a Narrator, played winningly and flexibly by Henry Stram. Harold McClam (played by Adam Chanler-Berat from Peter and the Starcatcher and Next to Normal, doing his usual thing), the sandwich maker in question, has lost his mother suddenly and he goes to Brooklyn for the funeral, but then doesn’t return. He ignores his father’s phone calls and he finds himself in a whirlwind relationship with Daphne, who has just moved to Manhattan from South Dakota with her sister Miriam, so that she can become a star on Broadway. Instead she’s selling coats, and she sells one to Harold and later they become friends, and even later they become more than friends. Miriam, meanwhile, is waitressing far away in Brooklyn and her favorite customer is Mr. McClam, who brings his record player everywhere he goes to remind him of his lost love, Cecily.
When Miriam runs into a fortune teller who tells her that she will meet her soulmate that night, she is certain it is Harold, whom she meets just afterwards at her diner. Until she realizes that Harold is now engaged to her sister.
Without giving the rest of the plot away, suffice it to say that the rest of the musical hinges on this question of whether Harold is Miriam’s soulmate and what that fortune teller meant when she said that Miriam would have a great fall.
The tone of the piece is quirky and funny, with bits and pieces of melancholy throughout. The play that Daphne is starring in (and which allows her to leave her job at the coat store) is called “The Human Condition” and is written by a very serious writer-director-producer named Joey Storms, played with perfect awkward comedy by Bryce Ryness. This theatrical in-joke might as well refer to Fly By Night as well, which explores the human condition, but in lower case.
The whole cast, actually, is funny and heartbreaking and charming and Carolyn Cantor has cleverly staged the musical so that spaces seamlessly shift throughout the piece. The music is performed by band Foe Destroyer, seated in a pit in the middle of the stage and has hints of 90s rock.
What Fly By Night doesn’t do is marry itself to the period in which it is set. While there aren’t any glaring anachronisms in the play, is it a play about a period of time (the months leading up to the blackout of November 9, 1965) but very much referencing contemporary times. The language, the music, the jokes all feel very rooted in today’s world and today’s theatre. As a result, the musical feels fresh, yet historically based and has audiences laughing and crying across the two and a half hours.
THEATRE REVIEW by Kate Mulley