A riddle: why are some contemporary rock musicals like drinking diet soda? Answer: They both leave a taste that is flat and not refreshing; both are “sweetened” with unhealthy gimmicks. Such is the case of the much hyped, insignificant, little rock musical playing currently at the Kalita Humphreys Theatre, aptly titled Fly By Night. Is it ever and boring, too.
Jumping onto the current bandwagon craze of the deconstruction of the American musical through imitating the style and tone of every which way award-winning Once, Dallas Theater Center engaged Austin-based band Foe Destroyer as “featured musicians” to play a cheesy show written by LA/ Broadway habitués, pedigreed prize-winners and Yale School of Drama graduates Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock. The folks at DTC want desperately to get a musical on Broadway any way they can. Presenting the ‘right sort’ of certified winners’ show, performed in the latest fad manner, may be a more likely path than the sophomoric Give It Up, the revamped It’s A Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman or unwieldy Giant proved to be. I do hope they achieve their heart’s desire soon so they can begin to focus on producing art instead of vehicles.
How do I dislike this show? Just count the ways.
- Length: Its navel-gazing, self-pitying indulgence goes on for at least a half hour too long. Edit this maudlin sucker before it gets to Playwrights Horizon, please.
- The narrator: why have one? He slows things down, interrupts the flow of action, such as it is, every time he enters. Many plays have narrators who advance the plot or provide perspective on characters, not this one. A “Super-title Substitute” for the Social media addicted generation who can’t be bothered with following a literary plot? The actor/singer playing the narrator wasn’t awful (Asa Somers, another Yale grad with lots of LA television/ Broadway touring type of credits). Just superfluous.
- The casting: here we go again with five main roles cast outside of Dallas/ Fort Worth that regional performers could have handled as well or better. Lee Jamison, Max Swarner come to mind. Where is the revered Brierley Resident Acting Company? How can a theatre company call itself a “leading regional theatre” when it mostly provides touring jobs for non-regional actors/ directors/ designers? Thank goodness for outstanding regional representation by Alex Organ and David Coffee, who both give superior performances. They sustain the show, as secondary characters. I fervently hope the imported performers don’t kick a dresser in the face like the one who played Superman did.
- The venue: If this show is about ‘the void”, an unending universe filled with a dreamy canopy of stars, why was it mounted at the intimate Kalita Humphreys Theater, not in that impersonal cavernous space that feels truly “void-like”, the Wyly? (The Odd Couple would have worked better at the Kalita, instead of taking place in a crisp, spacious, white-washed Highland Park McMansion-like interior set, thereby eliminating all sense of an overcrowded, cigar smoke filled New York City bachelor apartment). Pardon the digression. The set and venue choices make no sense.
- The time period: Set in the 60’s? How would I know this if I did not read the program or hear the promos on the radio? Not by the set, the costumes, the behavior of the actors, the dialogue (did anybody call themselves “nerds” in the 60s?) All elements looked, felt, sounded, and appeared vaguely contemporary, in a generic way.
- The plot: All the hype about the 1965 New York City Blackout as setting, and this aspect only appears, gimmick-style, in the last five to ten minutes so a female character can get killed off in the dark…kind of sexist? Why not kill off a male lead? Women, as stage characters or in life, are ALWAYS expendable, right?
- The music: For starters, the rhythm section figured much too hot in the mix, relentlessly pounding along. My teeth ached after a while with the nonstop, on edge assault. And, as one might guess, the music pretty much sounded the same throughout, blending into one endless rock-as-musical hybrid miasma. The brief snippets of La Traviata, sung by David Coffee, gave welcome, if limited, relief. No song list in the program? Maybe they don’t have one? Customary for musical theater…. I could barely hear the women over the rock band, ever, and if any singer turned away from full front delivery, their vocals got drowned out. No wonder that truly talented, musically astute composers and librettists are flocking to creating modern opera these days.
Nobody sets out to create a loser of a show; I’m aware of the fawning over Fly by Night from many quarters, in opposition to my opinion. When Verdi’s La Traviata was first mounted in 1853, it got met with ridicule for its overweight, not exactly youthful female lead, not the composer’s choice for the role, the producer’s. When it toured to England and the United States, critics panned it for its “depiction of immorality” (La Traviata means “a woman who has strayed”). Yet, today La Traviata is the most produced and beloved opera worldwide of the classical repertoire. So there’s hope for Fly By Night, you see. (Although never a match for Verdi.)
Directed by Bill Fennelly with musical direction by Zak Sandler.
It runs through May 26, 2013 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.
Tickets, etc: http://www.dallastheatercenter.org