Tuesday, March 22, 2016

New York Theater Buzz: Child's Play, March 2016

FLY (photo: Jim Cox)
By Jacquelin Carnegie
For Kids & Adults
New Victory Theater (209 West 42nd St) Until March 27, 2016; For ages 10 & up
     Children's theater often doesn't get the recognition it deserves but, for the past 20 years, The New Vic has consistently presented outstanding work. FLY is better than the last three shows I've seen on Broadway. In fact, it's downright fantastic. A talented ensemble cast, great staging, and an imaginative set create a you-are-there immersion experience.
     FLY is the story of World War II pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American, Army Air Corp fighters. Their pilot training began in 1941 at a segregated army airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama. (Prior to 1941, blacks weren't even allowed to fly for the U.S. military.) Denigrated and underestimated just because of the color of their skin, these chosen few had to prove their value and valor on the ground and in the air. Also called "Red Tails" for their P-51 Mustang fighters, the Tuskegee Airmen never lost an escorted plane to the enemy during the course of World War II.
     Their bravery and commitment was astonishing considering they were fighting for freedom and rights they themselves were still denied. It took over 60 years for the men to be officially recognized for their extraordinary combat record.
     In this Pasadena Playhouse/Crossroads Theatre Company production of FLY, four terrific actors represent a microcosm of the 994 actual Tuskegee Airmen: W.W. (Brooks Brantly), a cool cat from Chicago; Oscar (Terrell Wheeler), a country boy "race man;" J. Allen (Damian Thompson), an erudite gent from the British West Indies; and Chet (Desmond Newson), an underage flying enthusiast from Harlem. Written by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan (who also directs), FLY will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you care. As the character Chet says, "history is the river we stand in." But, since we are still wading in the waters of racism, prejudice, and intolerance, this tale of Tuskegee Airmen is as relevant today as it was in the 1940s.

Editor's Note: The New Vic run is over, but you can see FLY April 7-17, 2016 at Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. (There's lots of great theater beyond NYC!)

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