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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's 1943 novella The Little Prince is a favorite among teenagers looking for yearbook quotes, twentysomethings looking for tattoos, French students looking for something light to translate. But you tend to forget (at least I do) that, in the actual reading, it's not light. It's a distant, lonely, sometimes impenetrable little book: pretty and darling, but heavier on the philosophy and cool French seriousness than its reputation.
Night Flight suffers—or benefits, depending on your tastes—from the same odd detachment. Based on Saint-Exupéry's 1932 novel Vol de Nuit, adapted into an operetta by Book-It's Myra Platt with a score by Joshua Kohl of Degenerate Art Ensemble, Night Flight is a sad story with a pleasing exterior and a philosophical heaviness that keeps viewers at arm's length. It, like The Little Prince, is sometimes boring.
A story of aging men in the exciting young days of aviation, Night Flight concerns Riviere (John Patrick Lowrie, with mustachioed bluster), the director of an international airmail operation based in Buenos Aires. Obsessed with efficiency and discipline, he dispatches one of his pilots, Fabien (John Bogar), despite questionable weather conditions. Things don't go well.
Kohl's pleasant and playful score, terrifically rendered by a little live band, occasionally stretches credulity, awkwardly mating dialogue and melody. All of the singers could use a bit more power—they have trouble filling the huge (though appropriately antique) space at the Moore—but the technical skill is there and lovely.
Flying makes an almost-too-convenient metaphor for life's lonesome hurtling—distance, melancholy, exhilaration—the vulnerability of a man in a can in the sky, subject to such immense variables as weather and wind. It's borderline precious. Every successful flight is "another point scored against fate"; only diligence and precision keep the pilots in the sky and (nearly as importantly) the mail on time.
The aesthetics—of period costumes, of Saint-Exupéry's language, of the romance of early flight—are irresistible. "Delicately they tune their instrument, exploring the magnetic sky," sings Fabien's wife, earthbound while her husband hangs in the air, lost and losing fuel. But she feels as distant from us as he is from her—this is a metaphysical story, not a physical one.