There’s a lot to love about Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s season this year, starting with this first show. A new musical from 2014, FLY BY NIGHT tells several intersecting stories inventively and with some catchy music. Clocking in at almost three hours on opening night, though, it could stand a trim. But there’s a lot right with the story. And even more is right with this production.
There’s another equity musical being produced two blocks away at Cincy Shakes and so Director D. Lynn Meyers and Brian Isaac Phillips (the director “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, opening Friday) had their hands full in trying to cast their respective shows, I’m sure. And while Meyers uses all people who’ve graced the ETC stage in the past, I can’t imagine a better ensemble.
Nathan Robert Pecchia narrates the tale of star-crossed love plus inhabits multiple minor characters along with way. His natural stage presence gives the audience confidence that this new story we’re about to hear will be a good one and we shouldn’t worry with him at the helm. Michael Gerard Carr is the perfect sad-sack, awkward leading man and his turn as “Harold” seems tailor-made for him. Maya Farhat is likable enough to pull off the self-centered characteristics of wanna-be-star, “Daphne,” by making her sympathetic enough for the audience to connect despite her flaws. Her on-stage sister, Brooke Steele, is pitch-perfect as the girl next door whom we can all root for. It’s fascinating to me that Steele hasn’t found more work regionally or even nationally; she certainly has the chops for it. Patrick Earl Phillips plays a playwright, whom Daphne wins over immediately with her sass. Finally, Phil Fiorini (“Mr. McClam”) and Michael G. Bath round out the cast with textured minor characters who provide a good chunk of heart in Act Two.
The band sits above the stage, amongst the star-lights. Various mini-sets pull out on to Brian c. Mehring’s functional yet gorgeous circular stage as needed. Matt Callahan’s subtle yet layered sound design adds to the show, with only a few minor hiccups on opening night. Reba Senske’s costumes fit the time period well. Add in Patti James’s tasteful choreography and all the technical elements come together under the watchful eyes of Jack Murphy (technical director), Matthew Hollstegge (production manager), Shannon Rae Lutz (properties and more), Scot Wooley (musical director), and Brandon T. Holmes (stage manager).
At the outset this show feels like it might be similar to stories we’ve already heard; and in some ways it is. But as things progress, twists and turns combine with the trauma and tragedy of everyday life events to give this show legs by which it stands on its own.
Not everyone will leave the theatre loving this show; I heard several patrons discussing on their way to the car and it was a mixed bag of reviews. But for people who like their theatre a little emotionally challenging, plots more inventive, and less of the same-old, same-old Broadway romantic comedy, well . . . this is the show for you.
FLY BY NIGHT runs through September 29th at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. Tickets and more information can be found here.