Fly By Night, the quirky, charming musical the Dallas Theater Center staged last year, did not charm New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley much. If you saw it, you certainly remember the show — about a young romantic triangle that comes together and tears apart in the New York City blackout of 1965. It was too long, and charm is a hard thing to grasp and to hold for nearly two-and-a-half hours. But it was charming and ingenious, and Brantley did hail several aspects of the Playwrights Horizons production:
The score makes extensive use of time-freezing vamps and riffs that flirt with early rock ’n’ roll, as well as recurrent motifs that are guaranteed to take up longtime residence in your ear. A song of frustration with the rote and ruts of life, performed by the sandwich-making Harold and Crabble, is a perfectly self-contained tour de force. And though we wait for it, Mr. Friedman’s man in mourning finally gets — and nails — the exultant memory solo his character deserves. … The first-rate cast gleams with professional polish, while specializing in a mannered deadpan hysteria, and nobody oversells the cute eccentricity. Ms. Murin and Ms. Case are convincingly and charmingly stylized as embodiments of two very different feminine ideals.
But all that comes a long way after this kind of judgment:
… at 80 or 90 minutes, instead of two and a half hours, “Fly by Night” would have been just the ticket for audiences with a taste for sentimental quirkiness set to music. I mean, the kind of theatergoers who get misty listening to the 1960 original cast recording of “The Fantasticks” and sob happily over vintage movies about mixed-up, madcap young things who love and lose.
It’s odd; critics who don’t like Fly By Night often bring in The Fantasticks, another small-scale, whimsical musical that otherwise is so different, the comparison would never have occurred to me. At any rate, the show is at Playwrights Horizons, the 43-year-old off-Broadway company known for helping launch such notable shows as Clybourne Park and Sunday in the Park with George — all of which means the Times review isn’t as crucial for success as it would be at a Broadway house.
It’s early goings, though: No other reviews yet.