DALLAS The concept that everything we know of life in our galaxy (and beyond) is essentially born from stardust, and therefore we are all connected on a cosmic level, is a theme that rarely feels trite. Its almost too poetic for that ─ and it reaches poetic heights in the new musical Fly by Night at Dallas Theater Center.
Of the new musicals DTC has been aiding on a path to New York in recent years, Fly by Night ─ co-written by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstockv all (conceived by Rosenstock and begun when the three were students at the Yale School of Drama) ─ is by far the best. With sophisticated simplicity, it takes a cue from Our Town and The Fantasticks, using a narrator (Asa Somers)v to tell a story that goes beyond the twentysomethings at the core of its love triangle, but also of three other lost souls still searching for a toehold in the universe, even if it has to be reinvented from a previous one.
Set in 1965, the show deals with sisters Daphne (Whitney Bashor) and Miriam (Kristin Stokes), who leave small town South Dakota for New York City because Daphne has dreams of fame. While Miriamv is content to pour coffee in a diner (and look at the stars at night, which she did with her late astronomer father), Daphne works in a clothing store while auditioning for stage work.
Daphne falls for sandwich maker Harold (Damon Daunno), who reciprocates. She has another admirer with the hack playwright Joey Storms (Alex Organ), who writes a play for her after seeing Daphne at an audition. Then Miriam and Harold meet, and the stars realign. Meanwhile, Harolds father, Mr. McClam (David Coffee) is still mourning the death of his longtime wife and clutching onto a record of La traviata, the opera that brought them together; and Harolds boss, Crabble (Michael McCormick), dreams for a life beyond his daily rut.
The story moves forward, backs up and jumps forward again (all in 1965) as the narrator connects these dots; in the end, they might resemble a pattern drawn from a Spirograph. Hes a metaphor for the concept that weve all played in our heads over and over again, how our lives couldnt have played out the way it has if we had not been in certain places at specific times; so minute in the grand scheme of time. Its unimaginable, really, but we still cant help trying to imagine the various scenarios had fate decided to go another direction.
Appropriately, director Bill Fennellyv keeps it simple, using small remote controlled set pieces (scenic design by Dane Laffrey) and props that the Narrator often hands off to the characters. Most ingeniously, the musicians (Austin band Foe Destroyer, consisting of conductor/keyboardist Zak Sandler, guitarist Chris McQueen, bassist Daniel Garcia and drummer Cade Sadler) all are in a raised, wood-paneled room downstage right. We view them through a large window, as if looking into a recording studio from the control room. Whats a human life without a soundtrack that accompanies it?
This soundtracks a good one, too. The show is still new, and the song list was not available on opening night, but the music references rock n roll of the 60s and today, yet its diverse in style and a number of the songs are memorable. The character Harold is a novice guitar player and passion for music ─ from him, from Daphnes musical theater background and Mr. McClams connection to La traviata ─ is an important theme.
All of the performances are marvelous (as for the two local actors, Coffee brings us to tears several times and Organ is adorably goofy and affecting), but its held together by Somers. Hes consistently engaging as the narrator, and humorously morphs into other small parts, such as the sisters mother and a fortuneteller.
Most poetically for a narrative that deals with these faint lights in the cosmos ─ the ones called humans ─ the characters stories climax as the famous New York blackout of 1965 begins, as if being in the dark helps them see the light. Paul Tobensv lighting design adds dimension in the final scene, which could be overly sentimental if the writing and performances werent so honest. Its a stage moment that beautifully encompasses the complexity of ─ to bring up another theatrical cliché that is anything but trite in these hands (and serves as the title of Joeys ill-fated play) ─ The Human Condition.