By Barry Reszel
The very best thing about seeing a Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre show at at the No Exit Cafe in west Rogers Park is the nakedness. Specifically, Merriam-Webster’s sixth definition of naked: “Devoid of concealment or disguise.”
No company in Chicagoland better strips away embellishments, puts its actors literally in patrons’ laps and relies fully on the talents of its cast and musicians in the intimate 50-seat cabaret setting.
And this is no fly by night happenstance. Artistic Director Fred Anzevino has been doing it for nearly 20 years and more than a decade at No Exit. There’s not a lot of room for elaborate sets or costume changes, so Anzevino relies on his casting ability.
It’s a talent that other companies (non-Equity, in particular) ought to tap, because nobody does it better.
Case in point is Theo’s current production of a little-known metaphysical fable musical Fly By Night. Directed by Anzevino, it’s a mostly interesting, thoughtful but at times unnecessarily convoluted story with a lovely songbook. Most importantly, it features four young Chicagoland stars in the making as its leads: Jordan Phelps, James Romney, Meredith Kochan and Kyrie Anderson. And smaller roles played by Sean Thomas, Daniel Waters and Jonathan Strombe are well acted and impeccably sung.
The show itself was first produced two years ago by New York’s Playwrights Horizons, which calls it a darkly comic rock-fable and sweeping ode to young love. The plot involves a melancholy, young sandwich maker in Manhattan whose humdrum life is jumped by a surprising love triangle with two entrancing sisters, recently moved from South Dakota. The producers say the show, set against the backdrop of the Northeast blackout of 1965, is a tale about making ones way and discovering hope in a world beset by darkness.
While there are time continuum parallels to be drawn between this and the recent Broadway hit If/Then, this tale written by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock, at times loses its focus. It’s not terribly difficult to follow the one-year, flashback-laden plotline beginning with the death of Cecily (mother of sandwich maker Harold) and ending much too sadly well more than two hours later. But it’s evident Fly By Night would benefit from some judicious editing and, in this reviewer’s mind, a rewrite of the ending.
That said, the naked talent is certainly up to Theo’s high standards and combines with a sweet songbook to more than make up for nits of the story. Narrator Phelps takes on numerous incidental roles and has sharp timing, wonderful comic wit and a lovely singing voice. Romney as Harold McClam is kind, believable and a terrific singer. Kochan as aspiring actress Daphne and Anderson as the dependable Miriam are well matched as sisters, sing the daylights out of every piece of music and are simply gorgeous.
Thomas as Harold’s sad, kindhearted father whose wife’s death precipitates the tale, shows off a nice operatic voice. Waters as sandwich boss Crabble is a laugh riot. Stombre can sing with the rest of this cast, but his character is hard to buy—a young, aspiring playwright with the means to buy furs and saleswomen and produce his own musical. Again, the fault there lies with the book.
Music Director Jeremy Ramey and his band are simply top-notch, and musical highlights abound. They include the first act’s “Circles in the Sane, Daphne Dreams, More Than Just a Friend” and “Stars I Trust” and Act 2’s “I Need More,” “At Least I’ll Know I Tried,” “Me With You” and “Cecily Smith.”
While Fly By Night would benefit from a few changes, the naked talent shown off in this charming production is the real deal and well worth musical theatre patrons’ time and entertainment dollars.
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents “Fly By Night” through November 6 at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Adam Veness.