Flat Rock Playhouse has earned the title of official State Theatre of North Carolina. Recent reports of record-breaking season ticket purchases in advance of the 2016 season support that. And evidence of the theater’s excitement can be found in the bold new production Fly, by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan. It depicts the struggles, loses and achievements of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
Director Amy Jones has assembled a perfect cast, including steady performances by Flat Rock regulars Michael MacCauley and Scott Treadway, and a host of new faces. The show takes the audience by surprise from the outset. A tap griot character opens the show, with a furiously percussive tap routine that transcends what we think of as traditional tap. Omar Edwards is the tap griot, and his presence represents the inner struggles of the airmen as they overcome the monumental challenges placed before them. Edwards’ performance is breath-taking, providing sounds of pumping blood, clattering train rides and sputtering air planes. It is a bold, unique and wholly moving addition to the show.
The airmen are brought to life by Donte Bonner as Oscar (a proud black man out to prove himself to the world, as well as his wife and unborn child back home in rural Iowa), Donald Paul as J. Allen (who adds some Caribbean islander flavor) and Carter Redwood as the young and eager Chet (who worked his way from custodial duties at a Long Island airfield to a pilot in short order). Redwood is sweetly charming in the role, and inspiring to watch as he grows from the wide-eyed young man to a seasoned hero. If Redwood’s Chet is the heart of the show, Robert Karma Robinson is the soul as W.W., Robinson, a fast-talking man-of-the-streets from Chicago. His brash, bold charisma makes him the de-facto voice of the airmen, as he rubs the white instructors the wrong way. It is a tightly coiled performance, and Robinson gives it his all. You can’t take your eyes off of him as he prowls the stage like a restless tiger.
The stage set is right out of the art deco style of the 1930s, and the video projections transport the audience and cast from the ground to the air above Berlin. The show is riveting on an emotional level and there are moments where the audience is actually feels like one with the fighter planes and bombers as they fly dangerous missions. You can’t help but sense your heart rise into your throat as if the stakes were real and you are right there with the pilots as they soar among the clouds.
Fly continues at Flat Rock Playhouse through Sunday, Sept. 27, with performances through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.. $15-$40.