Chicago Theatre Review
A Musical Fable About Fate
Fly By Night – Theo Ubique
This sweet little seven-handed show, so perfectly suited to an intimate venue like the No Exit Cafe, is a little known musical fable. It was produced two years ago by New York’s Playwrights Horizon and deals with fate and how people’s invisible paths sometimes converge and connect. This metaphysical musical, written by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock, bops around in time between 1964 and 1965. It’s told both in story and song, much like “Blood Brothers,” another recent Theo Ubique musical hit.
The tale’s set in motion and commented upon by an omniscient narrator, very nicely played and sung by Jordan Phelps, who also takes on several incidental roles within the story, both male and female. But the main characters are a young, aspiring songwriter named Harold McClam and the the two ladies who come into his life. They’re sisters from South Dakota who drive to the Big Apple to begin a new life. Daphne inspires the move, with dreams of becoming a big Broadway star; her quieter sister Miriam, content being a topnotch waitress at a local diner, studies the stars and is more attune to the words of fortune tellers and signs from the universe.
Also prominently figured in this musical is Harold’s kindly father, Mr. McClam, who has just lost his wife, Cecily. In their early life together, Cecily fostered in her young husband a love for opera. Eventually we come to understand Mr. McClam’s particular passion for “La Traviata.” His story, beautifully played out with simplicity and honesty, rests in Sean Thomas’ unaffected, wholehearted portrayal.
The other two characters who play a part in this story are Mr. Crabble, played with gruff love by Daniel Waters, and Joey Storms, a handsome, young Jonathan Stombre, as a playwright on the verge of writing the great American Musical. Crabble hires Harold to work side-by-side with him in his Manhattan sandwich shop. This mundane job isn’t how either man would like to be spending his days, but it pays the bills. It’s by chance that Joey Storms discovers Daphne, while auditioning for his play, a script she labels as crap. Impressed with her candor, he casts her as the lead in his next show, for which she’ll serve as his muse.
Realists beware: this musical is pretty lightweight and whimsical. It’s about dreams and chance. The main characters are just barely three-dimensional and the story is based upon a belief in serendipity and happenstance. The musical also feels a bit long; the production might work better as a 90-minute one-act. Its romantic, fantasy quality becomes a little repetitious, like too much sugar, while demonstrating how the fault is in our stars.
That said, the performances of this talented cast are polished and beyond all expectations. Besides Jordan Phelps’ versatile portrayals of a Rod Serling-like narrator and both parents of Daphne and Miriam, he creates a wildly amusing and sinister fortune teller. This woman is responsible for setting the plot in motion with her hazy premonitions and predictions. Both Daniel Waters and Jonathan Stombre bring a strong presence and beautiful voices to their supporting roles. Sean Thomas impresses with his near operatic vocal versatility, scoring his best moment in a musical monologue describing how he fell in love with his wife, “Cecily Smith.” This is one of Thomas’ finest performances, to date.
Making her welcome debut with Theo Ubique, beautiful Meredith Kochan is classy, sassy and strong-willed as Daphne. She’s previously demonstrated her vocal prowess as Louisa in “The Fantasticks” and Wendla in “Spring Awakening,” but she really soars in this musical. Ms. Kochan impresses with “Daphne Dreams” and, particularly, “I Need More.” This young lady is a star on the rise. Gorgeous Kyrie Anderson, whose voice has the magical, dreamlike quality particularly appropriate for this role, as well as a power that moves the soul, is wonderful as Miriam. Having left her mark as Mrs. Johnstone in “Blood Brothers” and the title role of “Mary Poppins,” Ms. Anderson breathes empathy, compassion and love into this romantic role. Her songs “Stars/Trust” and “Pulled Apart” are two of her best moments and sparkle like her lovely smile.
But the real star of this show, and another of Fred Anzevino’s talented discoveries, is James Romney as Harold. This young actor is a winning combination of boyish charm and adult determination. He has a vocal quality that’s lilting, pitch-perfect and easy on the ear, while he impresses with both his sincere dramatic sincerity and a talent for playing the guitar. This may be one of Mr. Romney’s first professional roles, but it most definitely won’t be his last. He’s another Chicago triple threat to watch because Romney’s got honest likability and stardom written all over him.
Fred Anzevino and Courtney Crouse have made great use of the No Exit Cafe, nicely staging this vest pocket musical all over the place. Adam Veness has created a handsome scenic design that’s a welded skeletal skyline of Manhattan, accented with artistic projections by Brock Alter. James Kolditz’s lighting is challenging and effective, helping to create the star-filled ethereal quality the script demands. Bill Morey’s costumes reflect the simplicity of the sixties and, as ever, Jeremy Ramey’s musical direction and four-piece musical combo is absolute sweet perfection.
While this little-known musical feels a bit long and sometimes overly sentimental, Fred Anzevino’s charming production makes a welcome contrast to the bitterness and hatred that’s permeating our world today. Harold, Miriam and Daphne’s triangular tale of fate, set to music that’s infectious, if not entirely memorable, is touching and enjoyable. Featuring a cast of talented performers, many of them newcomers to this Rogers Park venue, this affectionate musical fable about fate is a welcome story to usher in the Fall.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 23-November 6 by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 800-595-4849 or 773-347-1109, or by going to www.theo-u.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.