Picture a dark, empty stage. A faint light from a cloudy sky. The U.S. Capitol in the background. A man’s shadow. Then, the sound of tap dancing feet echos through the shadows. Lights up! A tap dancer stomps, hops, leaps, shuffles across the steps of the capitol. Not just any tap dancer, but a real hoofer like Gregory Hines or Savion Glover -- a Tap Griot tapping staccato rhythms, his pain, his sorrow, his hopes, joy and dreams. Tapping his life.
That was the opening of scene of FLY at the Pasadena Playhouse. The tap dancer exits and Chet, an elderly Tuskegee Airman, appears on the capitol steps and tells his story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a story we’ve all heard. Yet, the story is brought to life by a stunning cast of talented young actors. Brooks Brantly (W.W), Ross Cowan (Shaw), Omar Edwards (Tap Griot), Anthony J. Goes (O'Hurley), Brandon Nagle (Reynolds), Desmond Newson (Chet), Damien Thompson (J. Allen) and Terrell Wheeler (Oscar)
Written by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan, FLY kicked off Black History Month at the Pasadena Playhouse with a bang. Brilliantly directed by Khan it takes the audience through the rigorous training, racial slurs, insults that these young men, some of the best and brightest minds of the country, endured when they were accepted into the U.S. Army's Pilot Training Program in July, 1941 at the segregated Tuskegee Army Airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama. It takes them on their first flights, bumpy and scary. Then as they became skilled aviators, on their first combat missions protecting bombers as fighter escorts over Europe during WWII. As the story unfolds, we learn about their personal lives, their families, their ambitions, their humanness.
According to a story in Performances magazine, the Red Tails as they were called, “flew over 15,000 missions and earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, 8 Purple Hearts” and the admiration and respect of the white pilots whose lives they saved. Nevertheless, they returned to the U.S. to endure the same prejudice and discrimination they fought against in battles against the Nazis.
Still, the story is not so much about racism, but about courage, fortitude, endurance and achieving one's dreams in spite of adversity.
It is an American story. A theatrical tour de force. A performance you won’t want to miss. FLY plays at the Pasadena Playhouse through Feb. 21.