There's something different about "Fly by Night," the musical love story now being staged at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis.
Instead of finding an actor who could play guitar, as one of the leading roles required, director Sarah Rasmussen went looking for a really good guitar player who could act.
She found Chris Koza. Minnesota music lovers will recognize him both for his solo work and for being in the popular band Rogue Valley. The group gained international fame when actor Ben Stiller picked the song "The Wolves and the Ravens" for the soundtrack to "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."
But as to acting experience? Koza was in "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Guys and Dolls" in high school, but he hadn't done any theater since then. Now suddenly he's the lead in a professional musical theater production.
"It's been a crazy challenge," he said the other day. "It's been a lot of hard work. There's just a whole world that happens in theater that you only get glimpses of doing music. Every movement, moment and expression is something that is informative to the story. There's no wasted moments, and I think that's really powerful. And it's exhausting."
Rasmussen describes "Fly By Night" as a cross between Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" and a Wes Anderson movie. It's a bittersweet love story set against the backdrop of the great Northeast blackout of 1965.
"It speaks to the need for us to find connection with each other in our world," she said, "but there's also, like a great Wes Anderson film, there's a lot of fun in it, there's a lot of humor, there's a lot of whimsy, 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 part Koza plays.
But Koza isn't the only big music name in the show: John Munson plays bass. You might know him from his work with the band Semisonic, which is performed its album "Great Divide" Friday at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Or maybe you know Munson from The New Standards, a jazz trio he formed with Chan Poling of The Suburbs, that performs new interpretations of pop songs.
Munson said it was Poling who turned him on to the idea of working on a musical. Poling has worked on several, including the recent hit "Glensheen," which is back at the History Theatre in St. Paul for its third run this summer.
When songs are performed by a band, Munson said, they often come free of context.
"They're your personality, or they're that particular moment in the show, but they don't happen within an emotional context," Munson said. "And in musical theater, basically the whole effort is to create frames within which you put beautiful songs. And I think it makes your experience of the song 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 pointed her in the direction of Koza.
Rasmussen said the Twin Cities enjoys both an amazing music scene and a dynamic theater culture, but there's not much crossover between audiences for the two:
"The folks that know and love John Munson's music and Chris Koza's music maybe will come and take a chance on seeing theater, and see that this is for them, too, in the same way that it's really appealed to Chris and John as artists," she said.
"Fly by Night" runs through July 23 at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis.