FLY: FREEDOM IN THE SKIES
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
The Pasadena Playhouse in conjunction with Crossroads Theatre Company presents the West Coast premiere of Fly by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan. Inspired by the American heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen, Fly dramatizes the story of four American Air Corp fighters who flew over the skies of Europe and North Africa during World War II. Fly touches upon themes of fortitude, hope, and victory during the time of Black and White segregation in American society.
In celebration of this production Pasadena mayor, Terry Tornek spoke on opening night before the show saying, “[. . .] As The Pasadena Playhouse approaches its centennial, with nearly 100 years of storytelling, it continues its mission to achieve excellence through high quality work on stage and our community. Now therefore, I, Terry Tornek, mayor of the city of Pasadena, on behalf of the city council, do hereby proclaim today January 31st 2016 as: Fly at the Pasadena Playhouse Soaring Through Excellence with the Tuskegee Airmen Day.”
Ellis and Khan’s Fly is a marvel of contemporary story telling from the moment it begins. This work brilliantly combines playwriting and dance in a way that is fresh and imaginative—here movement represents the airmen’s inner spirit. Dance is woven into the fabric of the play in two forms: first, in the moments of militaristic hip-hop inspired drills by the airmen and second, from the solo tap artist or griot, a storytelling figure that stems down from West African oral tradition. The choreography by Hope Clarke is bold, rhythmic and expressive—these moments are a pleasant surprise and are savored by the audience. The solo tap by “improvographer” Omar Edwards astounds in each of his entrances as he punctuates the drama with his “Afro-feet”, telling us something in every step—it’s poetry sur le pied.
The cast of Fly is a sensational group of talented men and each of the main characters that audiences will admire and enjoy. The four airmen of the show are W.W. (Brooks Brantly) the smart and cocky one; Chet (Desmond Newson) the young dreamer and hero; J. Allen (Damian Thompson) from the West Indies who seeks to honor his father; and Oscar (Terrell Wheeler) the “no nonsense race man” who bravely works hard to honor his race. These stellar black actors all work together like the tight regiment they represent on stage, each compliments the others in a way that is captivating and sincere.
Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt, lighting designers Rui Rita and Jake Degroot and projection designer Clint Allen provide a captivating visual tapestry for the show that also leaves room for the imagination. Here we see various projections on five geometrical shapes resembling the cockpit view from an American warplane. We are transported into the past, present and beyond with dazzling graphics giving the sense that you’re in fighting battles in the sky with these heroic airmen. Khan’s direction is thoughtful and precise. Everything works like clockwork, combining modernism, nostalgia, American history and West African traditions. Fly is 90 minutes of pure delight—a journey worth undertaking.
Fly runs at the Pasadena Playhouse from January 26, 2016 – February 21, 2016. For more information and tickets visit: www.pasadenaplayhouse.org. Catch this show before its Off-Broadway premiere at The New Victory Theater on March 11, 2016.