There is something different about “Fly by Night”, the musical love story currently being staged at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis.
Instead of finding an actor who could play the guitar, as one of the lead roles demanded, director Sarah Rasmussen set out to find a really good guitarist who could act.
She found Chris Koza. Music lovers in Minnesota will recognize him both for his solo work and for his membership in the popular band Rogue Valley. The group gained international fame when actor Ben Stiller chose the song “Wolves and Crows” for the soundtrack of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.
But what about acting experience? Koza was in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Guys and Dolls” in high school, but he hadn’t done theater since then. Now all of a sudden he’s the leader of a professional musical theater production.
“It was a crazy challenge,” he said the other day. “It’s been a lot of hard work. There’s just a whole world going on in the theater that you just get a glimpse of the music. Every movement, moment and expression is instructive for the story. . There are no wasted moments, and I think it’s really powerful. And it’s exhausting.
Rasmussen describes “Fly By Night” as a cross between “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder and a film by Wes Anderson. It’s a bittersweet love story set against the backdrop of the great Northeastern power outage of 1965.
“It’s a testament to the need for us to find connections with each other in our world,” she said, “but there’s also, like a great Wes Anderson movie, there’s a lot of fun. , there’s a lot of humor, there’s a lot of fantasy, there’s a lot of heart. ”
“Fly By Night” is the story of Harold, a young aspiring singer / songwriter working in a New York sandwich shop. That’s the role Koza plays.
But Koza isn’t the only big name in music on the show: John Munson plays bass. You might know him from his work with the band Semisonic, who perform their album “Great Divide” on Friday at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Or maybe you know Munson from The New Standards, a jazz trio he formed with Chan Poling from The Suburbs, who perform new interpretations of pop songs.
Munson said it was Poling who first inspired him to work on a musical. Poling has worked on several, including the recent hit “Glensheen”, which returns to the History Theater in St. Paul for its third broadcast this summer.
When songs are performed by a band, Munson said, they are often free from any context.
“They’re your personality, or they’re that particular moment in the show, but they don’t happen in an emotional context,” Munson said. “And in musical theater, basically all the effort is to create frames that you put great songs in. And I think that makes your song experience richer.”
Munson played bass on Koza’s solo record “In Real Time”. When Rasmussen started looking for local musical talent to star in “Fly by Night”, it was Munson who directed her to Koza.
Rasmussen said the Twin Cities benefit from both an incredible music scene and a vibrant theatrical culture, but there isn’t much crossover between audiences for the two:
“People who know and love the music of John Munson and the music of Chris Koza may come and try their luck at seeing theater, and find that it is for them too, in the same way that it really appealed to. Chris and John as artists, “she said.
“Fly by Night” runs through July 23 at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis.
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