Where were you when the lights went out?
A half-dozen or so disaffected New Yorkers, linked together by fate or coincidence, sing about coping with death, loneliness, aimlessness. If that sounds like Rent, or even Avenue Q … well, it’s not, but it is just as smart and entertaining, with a little big of Robert Altman thrown in.
Fly By Night, a newish musical making its regional debut at the Kalita thanks to Dallas Theater Center, combines elements and tones culled freely from The Twilight Zone, Spring Awakening, Magnolia, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, (500) Days of Summer and chamber musicals like those of Jonathan Larson and William Finn and Little Shop, to create a spiritual but not ponderously didactic piece that plays with lovely insight within the intimate space of the Kalita. (I imagine it working well in the black box of the Wyly, too.)
It’s November 1964 — the era of Mad Men — and the sole foray by schlubby Harold (Damon Daunno, pictured left with Michael McCormick) into advertising is misspelling the sign on his boss’ sandwich shop. Harold meets Daphne (Whitney Bashor), a perky transplant from South Dakota, and falls for her fast. But Daphne’s mousy older sister Miriam (Kristin Stokes), resignedly alone, meets a fortune teller who predicts she and Harold are meant to be together … and that it won’t end happily. (It doesn’t.) Everything in their lives, though, seems to be zeroing in on that day in 1965 when the Eastern Seaboard went black due to a power outage, and the fortunes of everyone were changed.
This is the kind of show where even its weaknesses exude a goofy likability. The second act is easily 20 minutes too long, and the character of an aimless playwright is a waste of actor Alex Organ’s sizeable talents. (The entire plot about a constantly revised play-within-a-play comes off as excessively twee.) You also want to spend more time with Harold’s father (David Coffee), although his last-act solo makes the wait worth it.
Fly By Night casts a spell on you in any number of ways, from the melodic appeal of the Disney-esque songs (“I Need More” and “I Am a Turtle” linger, as do the voices of their singers) to the appealing actors to Bill Fennelly’s creative staging. And it does all this not by dazzling, but by reassuring us of the beauty of life even in those moments of desperation. It makes living in the dark of the universe not seem so scary.
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Through May 26. DallasTheaterCenter.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 10, 2013.