Joe Thiessen

Broadway Rose takes flight

The off-Broadway musical "Fly by Night" glows in the company's smart and funny new production

Broadway Rose and director Isaac Lamb are bringing the fleeting magic of stardust to the stage with their new production of the 2014 musical Fly by Night.

A potent mix of youthful optimism and struggle marks this dark comedy. From the opening, Joe Theissen’s narrator (one among many parts he plays), decked out in brill-combed hair, thin tie and small-lapel suit, takes us back to the kind of dirty but creative streets of Greenwich Village in 1965. The musical has the feel, look, and smell of a dusty early Simon and Garfunkel album, if it were co-written by Rod Serling: plot twists around learning through loss, and how to channel it with some catchy riffs.

"Fly by Night": coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

“Fly by Night”: coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Fly by Night is an off-Broadway musical by Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick, and it has the layers, heavy crafting and emotional insight that Yale mafia graduates are known for. From the first number, Circles in the Sand, the audience is hooked. You want to buy the soundtrack. It’s updated folk music that came out of the coffee shops and underground taverns in the early Bob Dylan-worshipping days: simple, syrupy, good pop with clever lyrics. John Quesenberry leads the band’s performances over two and a half hours with energy, enthusiasm, and charm. Connolly and Mitnick’s music is like a good Indie record; it’s Vampire Weekend and the Shins pared down to groovy elements. There is a seamless transition into every song and it’s amazing to watch dialogue slide into song. The “now they’re going to sing” abrupt monologues are missing, and as the cream separates, the dearness of the story rises to the top.

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‘La Cage’ brings Darcelle to tears

The big showy musical in the Newmark reveals a lot of heart to go with its sequins and sashes – and Portland's legendary drag queen agrees

Darcelle is tearing up. La Cage gets her every time, she confesses, even though she already saw this particular show on opening night: yesterday. “It’s just so real,” she says. “It’s our lives.”

Portland’s most legendary drag queen and the proprietor of Darcelle XV made me do a double-take at intermission during the Sunday matinee of La Cage aux Folles in the Newmark Theatre.  Incognito in shorts and a muted-patterned, short-sleeved men’s button-up (and if you must know, #nomakeup), she resembled any older gentleman at the theater until I overheard her declare from the seat directly behind me, “Debbie Reynolds wore my jewelry when she was in town.” Of course I couldn’t help but turn around, introduce myself, and invite her to chat after the show. Naturally, I was curious what the mother of all drag mothers loved and hated about this production.

Norby and Thiessen: made for each other. Photo: Pixie Dust Productions

Norby and Thiessen: made for each other. Photo: Pixie Dust Productions

After the curtain call, we headed for the lobby, with Darcelle being stopped every few feet by fans. Once there, I asked, “What did you think? What did you like?” The waterworks welled up as she began to list: favorite musical number, Song on the Sand; favorite scene, George and Albert at the café; favorite aspect, “The characters!” George and Albert remind her of herself and 47-year partner Roxy Neuhardt.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are; it’s how you feel about each other,” she says, choking up. “And it’s also so true that (quoting a show lyric) we are what we are!” This undoes me, and now we’re both crying. Though this show preaches most directly to the LGBT chorus line, this mantra reminds us all to self-accept our many facets and present authentically to others, no matter what the reaction.

Phew. Okay. Enough sentimentality! Time to pull it together, like the tightest girdle, and critique La Cage from hair to heel. 

Pixie Dust Productions’ remount and major expansion of a 2013 version at Lakewood Theatre, as Darcelle puts it, “scales up” quite nicely, with more room for tall heels and hair, tango and tap-dancing. Return performances are polished to a gloss, and shine brighter with the elaborate new trimmings that director Greg Tamblyn has added.

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