By Thom Geier
Updated June 12, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT
Joan Marcus

Your response to Fly By Night, a small-scale musical playing through June 29 at Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons, depends on your tolerance for whimsy. Kim Rosenstock, who conceived the show and cowrote it with Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick, is a writer for Fox’s The New Girl ? and Fly By Night shares that sitcom’s self-conscious cleverness and almost aggressive likability. In our hero’s big number, which is reprised at the end of the first act, he compares himself to a sea turtle. Yes, it’s that sort of show.

Fly by Night centers on a love triangle in mid-1960s New York between a regular joe who works at a sandwich shop (the endearing Adam Chanler-Berat) and two sisters who’ve just landed in New York from South Dakota ? curiously, neither of them is played by a Deschanel. One is a pretty blonde aspiring Broadway star (Lysistrta Jones‘ Patti Murin); the other, an astronomy-loving waitress (Hands on a Hardbody‘s Allison Case). As in The Fantasticks, another stripped-down musical with which this show bears a passing resemblance, there’s also a narrator (the hard-working Henry Stram) who sets the scene and plays multiple bit parts (including the sisters’ mom).

But just try to remember the kind of oh-so-mellow songs in the show ? there’s basically one wan melody repeated throughout, with variations. That said, Peter Friedman, who plays our hero’s opera-obsessed widower dad, does have a fine solo toward the end.

As a fan of The New Girl, I was mostly charmed by Fly By Night, which benefits from Carolyn Cantor’s well-paced direction and David Korins’ simple but effective set design. But even my patience was tried in places. The show is too long, and the story mostly sentimental mush, stooping to some of the hoariest of clichés: the director who falls for his muse, the implausibly postponed revelation that our hero is wooing sisters, the climactic city-wide blackout, and even (alas) the gypsy psychic who foreshadows much of the plot.

Much of the time, though, Rosenstock & Co. manage to play with those very conventions ? smartly shifting chronology or slipping in surprises about characters, as when the sisters’ mom seems all too eager to push her offspring from the nest: ”I love you. But The Time Has Come. You need to move forward. Or at least move.” Likewise, Fly by Night doesn’t always move forward, but it does keep moving. B