Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
Through February 21
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military pilots in the Armed Forces of the United States. Their courage, skill and dedication played a significant role in the allied victory in Europe during World War II — this in a time of hardcore segregation and racial hostility, both inside and outside the military. Their story is the inspiration for this stylized drama, penned by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan, who also provides sound direction.
Opening on the Capitol steps before the inauguration of Barack Obama, the action shifts back in time to 1943, where we encounter Chet (Desmond Newson), J. Allen (Damian Thompson), W.W.(Brooks Brantly), and Oscar (Terrell Wheeler) reporting for their first day of flight school in Tuskegee, Alabama. The school is run by a racist training officer (Anthony J. Goes), who openly taunts them, proudly boasting about his high washout rate, and making brutally clear what he thinks of this “public relations experiment.”
But the bigoted Captain O’ Hurley and the rigors of training aren’t the only obstacles they face; their differing backgrounds, reasons for wanting to fly and their egos are constant sources of tension and resentment. Eventually they graduate, go on to fly combat missions, and gain the respect and admiration of their white fellow pilots.
Fly has no shortage of catchy, humorous moments, but a bit more substantive storytelling would be a welcome addition to this otherwise enjoyable production. Hope Clarke provides some handsome choreography, while the dazzling tap dancing of Omar Edwards, the “Tap Griot” and designated “improvoagrapher,” creates an unusual, yet powerful narrative dimension (something like a Greek chorus), that the director cleverly uses during the show.
A smattering of props and furniture are utilized, and Beowulf Boritt has designed a large, stunning configuration of geometric panels for the backdrop that give the eerie impression of looking out of a cockpit. These also serve as projection screens skillfully used during the show’s air combat scenes. Khan draws fine performances from a cast that includes Ross Cowan and Brandon Nagle.
The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena; Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat. 4 & 8. p.m.; Sun., 2&7 p.m. (no perf. 7 p.m. Sun., Feb. 7) through February 21. (626) 356-7529 or www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org Running Time: Ninety minute with no intermission.