FLYING OVER SUNSET
January 18, 2022
"Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars....." rang in my ears while watching the visually stunning Lincoln Center Theater production Flying Over Sunset. An ensemble of seasoned actors escort the audience on a trip past the torturous McCarthy-era days and into the mind-bending experiments spurred by psychedelic drugs.
Directed and written by the venerable James Lapine, the chamber musical is set to music by Tom Kitt with lyrics by Michael Korie and choreography by Michelle Dorrance.
In a surprisingly inventive twist, Dorrance's choreography seamlessly permeates the production. At certain points, actors walk on an amplified floor accenting words with the percussive sound of their feet. This nifty contrapuntal attack punctuates the scene changes and jazzes up the drama.
When LSD surfaced in the 1950's, it was considered a remarkable new psychiatric tool. Intrigued by the drug, Clare Boothe Luce (Carmen Cusack), the renown writer, politician and socialite; Cary Grant (Tony Yazbeck), film star and former vaudevillian; Aldous Huxley (Harry Haden-Paton), futurist writer and scholar, and Gerald Herd (Robert Sella), writer/philosopher convene one sunny weekend to "trip" together.
One by one, the audience is introduced to Huxley, his wife Maria (Laura Shoop) and dear friend Gerald. Clearly this trio engages in expansive thinking, going beyond society's conventions. Sharp and witty, Maria bravely contends with a terminal illness. Her passing upends Huxley and Herd's sanguinity.
Cast in a similar state of suspended animation, Clare questions her next steps. Another person delving into career choices and psyche, Cary Grant, hooks up with the trio during an arranged lunch. Since everyone is ingesting controlled portions of LSD, they agree to spend a weekend of psychological, cosmic exploration.
Through a breath-taking combination of Beowulf Boritt's sets, 59 Production projections and Bradley King's lighting, the audience is transported from department stores, to homes, a psychiatrist's office, restaurant, beach home, and the unending expanses of the mind.
An integral part of the high-caliber cast, Yazbeck snares a terrific opportunity to flaunt his dance and comedy talents. With the help of a psychiatrist (Nehal Joshi) and a tab of LSD, Yazbeck returns to his olden, scrappy vaudeville days. In a high-powered dance routine, Yazbeck expertly marries tap rhythms and clowning -- rousing the audience to cheers.
Once the gang gathers at the country house to "trip," they space-out, indulging in individual dreams or nightmares. Ultimately, theatrically capturing everyone's surreal mindset proves slippery, and yet, Flying Over Sunset offers stellar company.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis