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BWW Review: FLY BY NIGHT at 1st Stage

BWW Review: FLY BY NIGHT at 1st Stage

Written and composed by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick, and Kim Rosenstock, Fly By Night is an appealing mish-mash of rock n' roll, opera, and classic music theater. It is an ode to a doomed love affair and a modern-day fairytale.

Set in New York City and South Dakota in 1964 and 1965, and the November Blackout of 1965, Fly By Night begins with a funeral for Mrs. McClam. But with every death, a new life begins. And for her son Harold (Aaron Bliden), the discovery of her guitar is the beginning of his new life as a musician and a lover. Shortly thereafter, he wins over the starry-eyed Daphne (Farrell Parker), a recent transplant from South Dakota. As they forge a new life for themselves, Daphne's starry-eyed sister Miriam (Caroline Wolfson) embraces her new role as waitress at the Greasy Spoon Café.

As life moves forward for his son, Mr. McClam (Sasha Olinick) remains frozen in time. His growing reliance on his late wife's recording of Verdi's La Traviata is a not so subtle allusion to the tragedy waiting to befall our unassuming cast of young lovers. Despite the lack of subtlety, his fixation on the opera results in one of the more interesting musical moments of the production, "Cecily Smith."

Mr. McClam isn't the only one grappling with the disappointments of a lonely, ho-hum life. The thinly drawn playwright Joey Storms (Tiziano D'Affuso) and Crabble (Ryan Manning), Harold's cantankerous boss at the sandwich shop, pine for the unattainable. The tune that I can't get out of my head is Crabble and Harold's "Eternity" that details the monotony of their job.

Fly By Night is narrated by "the narrator" (Jamie Smithson), a high-energy and empathetic fairy godmother whose quick wit and prowess as a storyteller are essential to its success.

Bliden and Smithson's charisma, versatile vocals, and impeccable sense of comedic timing are the lynch pins for the entire production. The entire cast is notable for their vocals, so never fear, there are no "cringeworthy" moments.

In more ways than one, Fly By Night is more than a little magical. Director Kathryn Chase Bryer creates the allusion of magic with the help her small cast, whose management of the set and props is so very carefully choreographed that it really does approach magic.

Thematically, there is a lot to unpack in Fly By Night. The interconnectedness of the world is emphasized by an over reliance on the repitition of musical themes and motifs.

Light and the passage of time are also recurrent themes. Vetern 1st Stage Set Designer Nate Sinnott and Lighting Designer Conor Mulligan embrace Fly By Night's pre-occupation with the dichotomy of light and dark; strings of lightbulbs twinkle brightly against a largely dark set.

Sinnott's deceptively low-key set design reveals itself to be the definition of flexibility and efficiency. Discreet, built-in nooks and crannies offer onstage storage for props, as well as a hideaway for the onstage rock band (capably led by Music Director (and piano player) Walter "Bobby" McCoy). No small feet!

What I find most compelling about Fly By Night is the emphasis it places on the small pleasures of life. Miriam's pleasure at discovering that the Greasy Spoon Café serves breakfast all day (I'm sure we can all get behind that!) and Crabble's unbridled joy at the receipt of a new sign, pays homage to all the "little things" that get us through the day. Fly By Night is so utterly relatable.

Presenting a musical of this scale in a small theatre space is a challenge. For one, every cast member is mic'd, most likely because of the rock band. Despite the challenges, Sound Designer Neil McFadden does an admirable job of managing the mics for a fast moving cast.

Like many solid musicals before it, Fly By Night has its pitfalls. Two and a half hours is a lengthy time commitment that only manages to weigh down a catchy score and an energetic cast. Nevertheless, don't rule Fly By Night out as a rewarding and energizing theatre experience.

By and large, Fly By Night is yet another reason (as if you should need another reason!) to make the pilgrimage to Tyson's Corner.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission

FLY BY NIGHT plays through May 6 at 1STStage located at 1524 Spring Hill Rd, Tysons Corner, VA 22102. For tickets call (703) 854-1856 or click here.

Photo credit: Sasha Olinick, Tiziano D'Affuso, Ryan Manning, Caroline Wolfson, Aaron Bliden and Farrell Parker, and Jamie Smithson in "Fly By Night" at 1st Stage. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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From This Author Jenny Minich