Artists struggle to find fame and the meaning of life in 'Fly By Night'

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Dan Norman

At the outset, Fly By Night seems like a story we’ve seen before. A woman falls for her sister’s mismatched fiancé, but doesn’t want to hurt anyone, so she runs away. You won’t see what’s coming in the second act of the Jungle Theater’s summer musical, though: It’s not a show for people who don’t like surprises.

Fly By Night

Jungle Theater
$30-$45; $15 preview shows

The 2011 musical is the brainchild of playwright Kim Rosenstock (a staff writer on Fox’s New Girl), who collaborated with co-writers Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick. Director Sarah Rasmussen helms this regional premiere, which ventures into some of the same cosmic territory the Jungle explored last year with Constellations.

The sisters are Miriam (Leah Anderson) and Daphne (Royer Bockus), who leave their South Dakota town in 1964 and head to the Big Apple because Daphne sees a career for herself on Broadway and needs Miriam’s moral support. While Daphne’s shopping headshots, she meets Harold (Chris Koza), a dreamy dude who works in a sandwich shop but nurtures his own dreams of making it in music.

Soon they’re engaged, but they rarely actually see each other because Daphne’s deep in rehearsals with Joey (Joshua James Campbell), a playwright who takes her as his muse. It’s obvious they’re a better match, and that the quiet Harold should be with Miriam. Love is never simple, though, and especially not in this show.

Fly By Night is constantly jumping around through time and space, and our conductor is narrator Jim Lichtscheidl, who also plays an array of supporting characters. Lichtscheidl’s flexible comic talents make him perfectly suited for the role, which is a good thing because we see a lot of this narrator.

The prominence of the narrator is part of the show’s argument that our lives are profoundly shaped by circumstance and fate, a point that’s driven home when the extraordinarily coincidental timing of the 1965 Northeast blackout becomes a key plot development. We’re reminded to cherish our time together and follow our bliss, but it does become challenging to sympathize with characters who are so often their own worst enemies.

Koza, who fronts the real-life band Rogue Valley, has a convincingly sincere mien and a nice way with Harold’s yearning numbers. The best songs, though, go to Daphne: Bockus gets not only a twitterpated duet with Harold (“More Than Just a Friend”) but also the show’s best and biggest ballad, “I Need More.” Bockus has a lot of fun with the sweet but self-centered starlet, while Anderson grounds Miriam with a finely honed performance that eschews plain-Jane stereotypes.

Rasmussen has a special talent for infusing shows with warmth, and Fly By Night has a lot of winning moments. That warmth, though, runs up against an almost cruel streak that leaves you wondering whether somebody pissed in the writers’ LaCroix between the first and second acts. The characters look up at the stars, waiting for the narrator to explain the meaning of life. Aren’t we all?

IF YOU GO:

Fly By Night
Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
612-822-7063; through July 23


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