Conor McShane is a Chicago-based playwright, actor, and musician. A native of Michigan, Conor's plays have been produced by numerous companies throughout his home state, including Tipping Point Theatre, Fancy Pants Theater, Western Michigan University, and at the Renegade Theatre Festival. Since relocating to Chicago, his short plays have been produced by Dandelion Theatre (The Coat Check, The Hot Dog Stand), Thorpedo Productions (Love in 90 Minutes), and at the Twelve Ways to Play one-act festival. Most recently, his full-length play The Letter G was presented as a staged reading by Coffee & Whiskey Productions. He lives with his partner and closest collaborator, Leslie Hull, and a temperamental cat named Cheena.
Pictured: Jayla Craig (Left) and Jeff Meyer (right). Photo by Paul Goyette.
By Conor McShane
Sometimes a show comes along that’s so charming, so honest to goodness lovable that you can’t help but cast aside your cynicism and get swept along for the ride. FLIES! THE MUSICAL!, receiving its world premiere at Pride Films and Plays’ new space, is such a show. With music by Cindy O’Connor and book/lyrics by Larry Todd Cousineau, it’s the kind of production that almost resists critical analysis through sheer gusto.
A musical riff on Lord of the… (the book enjoyably hangs a lampshade on its inability to secure rights from the William Golding estate by refusing to say the full title), the show centers on the acting troupe from Lovely Valley High School, who have absconded to an abandoned park to rehearse their upcoming musical adaptation of the aforementioned book, the remote location—and ban on smartphones—chosen to add a bit of realism to the process. The troupe is stocked with types you’re likely to know if you’ve spent any time in high school theater: there’s the hyper-earnest kids, the dancers, the dabbling jocks, and the quiet, shy loner who never speaks but still shows up. As it becomes clear that the kids have been forgotten by their chaperone, life starts to imitate art, albeit in a much sillier way than the source material.
FLIES! is a freewheeling parody, lovingly spoofing Golding’s novel, as well as poking fun at the musical theater form and the people who practice it. You don’t have to be well-versed in musicals to appreciate most of its humor, but there are plenty of in-jokes and references for those in the know. Similarly, you don’t really have to be familiar with the novel, but it can’t help but enrich the experience. The book even throws in a bit of political commentary, as most of the kids are eventually drawn to a leader who projects strength, but has no plans, intelligence, or vision to actually lead.
Parodies are inevitably hard to critique, mostly coming down to how well the piece spoofs its subject, and how many of the jokes land. Luckily, FLIES! succeeds on both counts, being both an effective, affectionate send-up and laugh out loud funny throughout. Many of the best gags are better off left as a surprise, but I’ll leave you with one hint: there are puppets.
A big part of why FLIES! is so enjoyable is the stellar work from the cast and production team. The performers all excel vocally, and each brings a lot of personality to their broad, stock characters. The score wisely gives each of them a moment (or moments) to shine, and everyone takes theirs with gusto. Sawyer Smith’s tight choreography has a lot of fun riffing on musical theater dance, and director Michael Driscoll gives the show plenty of zippy energy. The design elements, too, are all well-integrated, with Shelbi Arndt’s lights and Jamie Karas’s props each getting standout moments that add to the humor.
Sure, there are quibbles to be had—the narrative gets a little rushed at the end, the book’s meta self-awareness could be more developed, offhand references to our current political situation feel a little shoehorned in at times—but really, these gripes all seem pretty minor in the face of so much spirit, humor, and irresistible “let’s put on a show” energy. FLIES! asks you to give yourself over to its brand of appealingly cheery lunacy, and if you do, you can’t help but have a fun time.
FLIES! THE MUSICAL! runs through June 10th. For more information visit pridefilmsandplays.com.