BWW Review: Theo Ubique's Must-See FLY BY NIGHT

Kyrie Anderson as Miriam.

All photos by Adam Veness, courtesy of Theo Ubique Cabare Theatre.

Theo Ubique's Chicago premiere of FLY BY NIGHT (music, lyrics and book by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock) packs a moving, emotional punch.

I suppose you could say that FLY BY NIGHT is about the Great Northeast blackout of 1965 which plunged a number of eastern states into darkness, but that would be like saying the sinking of the Titanic was about an iceberg. Lives intersect and the script jumps ahead and back through time so that an innocuous moment such as when deli worker/musician Harold (the dynamic and likeable James Romney) debuts a song about sea turtles (the folk/rockabilly tune "Circles in The Sand") during open-mic night at a bar takes on emotional weight when we flash back to learn the song has been long in its creation and both tune and lyrics have the utmost significance to him. Even the seemingly mundane (like a seemingly silly song about turtles) becomes profound when viewed outside the scope of a linear timeline.

James Romney as Harold.

With Romney, director Fred Anzevino proves once and again he has an eye for talent. It isn't a keen sense of discovering them (Mr. Romney has a number of stage credits to his name), but rather an ability to match a talented actor with a promising role, then step back and allow the performer's work to speak for itself.

The show is essentially about a love triangle that develops between Harold and sisters Daphne (a terrific Meredith Kochan whose big voice belies her petite body) and Miriam (the always captivating Kyrie Anderson).

Daphne is a perky and ambitious actress who drags her sister with her to New York so that she can pursue her dreams. In the song "Daphne Dreams," Kochan belts out an affirmation that she is a star -if not now, very, very soon - and you'd be hard-pressed to doubt her.

Miriam wants nothing more than to be a simple waitress in a diner. Anderson's performance of "Stars I Trust," an unwavering pledge of holding tight to one's connection to the universe is captivating as much as her performance of "Breakfast All Day," in which her character sings of the virtues of working in diner serving eggs and pancakes around the clock, will put a smile to your face.

Daphne meets Harold first and immediately falls in love with him. Miriam encounters him later in the diner where she works the late shift and immediately recognizes him as her soul mate and is crestfallen to learn that Harold and Daphne are engaged.

L to R: Joey (Jonathan Stombres and Daphne (Meredith Kochan).

After Daphne is offered the lead in a new musical by a neurotic playwright (as if there is any other kind of one; played by the appropriately tightly-wound Jonathan Stombres), she becomes too fixated on securing her stardom that her relationship with Harold begins to falter. Thanks to the predictions of a gypsy fortune teller (Jordan Phelps), Miriam fears pursuing a future with Harold, though.

In addition to the fortune teller, Phelps plays the narrator and a host of other characters. For those keeping score, this is the second time Phelps has played a narrator in a musical at Theo Ubique (he received a much-deserved Jeff Nomination for "Blood Brothers" last year) and it is easy to see why Phelps gamely jumped into the role as it is an absolute delight to watch what he does to morph himself physically into the myriad of characters he plays (The sisters' mother and the gypsy fortune teller are the highlights).

Loss also figures prominently into the piece. Harold's father, Mr. McClam (a heart-breaking performance by Sean Thomas) mourns for his recently deceased wife by carrying their shared record player with him where ever he goes. His impeccably sung love letter to his wife, "Cecily Smith", succinctly sums up his character's view of the world: "life is not the things we do, it's whom we're doing it with."

Unfortunately, Harold doesn't return his calls, the world doesn't seem to be all that interested in listening to him and Mr. McClam is the kind of lonely man we all encounter on a day-to-day basis; the kind of person you see eating alone in a restaurant whose aura seems to plead for even the tiniest of human contact. Thomas' performance is likely to stay with you long after you have left the store front space.

L to R: Crabble (Daniel Waters) and Harold (James Romney)

Also mourning a loss of sorts is Crabble (the comically gruff Daniel Waters), the beleaguered owner of a sandwich shop where Harold works. His mantra of "mayonnaise, meat, cheese and lettuce" repeated over and over again, is a testament to the rut his life is in. He has lost a sense of purpose and lives in the memories of his time during World War II, when he was an air traffic controller.

As musically directed by Jeremy Ramey, the show is easily a companion piece to NEXT TO NORMAL in a musical sense. The orchestration is minimal, punctuating melody to highlight a moment and bring it into focus as needed. Ramey plays piano and is joined by Carlos Mendoza on drums, Alex Piazza on bass and Perry Cowdery on guitar. The quartet creates a sound that feels much fuller than a quartet.

L to R: Miriam (Kyrie Anderson) and the Fortune Teller (Jordan Phelps).

Adam Veness' set features steel-like skeletal framing that successfully suggest buildings and the New York city skyline. It also incorporates Brock Alter's winning projection designs in a creative way that makes for a good use of the store front theater space. Bill Morey's costumes invoke the spirit of the era with the occasional pop of color. Jame Kolditz's lighting design includes a starry sky that appears vast and unending.

The entire affair is elegant in its simplicity: a must-see, star-filled, fall night to remind us of that languageless bond that connects everyone to our shared humanity.

Theo Ubique's production of FLY BY NIGHT runs through Nov. 6 at the No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood. Tickets, $34-$39. 800.595-4849 or www.theo-u.com.



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From This Author Misha Davenport