Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Spamalot
Also see Scott's review of Spamalot
Ace is about a 10-year-old boy named Billy circa 1952 who has been placed in foster care while his mother recovers from a breakdown. Billy begins to have dreams in which a fighter pilot named Ace takes him on a journey to see the past, and to discover his own history as well. The show takes place primarily in St. Louis, and the musical played at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis just prior to coming to Cincinnati.
Ace has a book by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker (a University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM) graduate). The story plays out with an effective mix of humor, drama, history, conflict, adventure and mystery. Its themes (family, connection, healing) have a universality that is appealing on different levels and that makes the audience pull for all of the characters. Some of the dialogue scenes contain humorous banter that is extremely well written. On the downside, the first act lacks focus because of the non-linear nature of the storytelling (due to the dream flashbacks). Even though all of the pieces come together in act two, it may be asking a lot of an audience to wait until after intermission to understand the purpose of the show. Also, a central conceit of the plot is based on a secret held by Billy's mother, and the motivation for keeping this secret is never clearly explained. Still, the story is an interesting one with much to keep an audience engaged.
The score consists of lyrics by both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Oberacker set to Oberacker's music. The lyrics are both intelligent and everyday, and there is some unexpected, yet crafty rhyming (showcased especially well in "Seeing Things In A Different Light"). The music includes some eager melodies that maintain a careful balance stylistically between old-fashion classics and modern sophistication. The opening number "It's Better This Way" splendidly sets up the central non-dream characters, the setting and the situation. And the soaring anthem "In These Skies" contains a beautiful tune and lyrics that are both specific to the show and general enough to have a healthy life outside the show.
Director Stafford Arima (Off-Broadway's Altar Boyz) provides a solid emotional foundation, active blocking and some theatrical flair. If the show may be a bit too sentimental in spots, the melodrama that is present is thankfully balanced by the pieces's humor. What the show does need is some trimming (at least 20 minutes would be great) and a little more focus in act one. Choreographer Andrew Palermo's work is fine, and Music Director David Kreppel capably leads a strong orchestra playing Greg Anthony's apt orchestrations.
As 10-year old Billy, Noah Galvin couldn't be better. The quality of his singing, acting and stage presence should be the envy of many adult professionals. His portrayal is sympathetic, authentic, polished and moving, and the production is lucky to have Mr. Galvin as its central figure. Matt Bogart and Jessica Boevers are CCM alums, real-life husband and wife, and Broadway vets, and they also bring strong performances as Ace and Billy's mother. This pair doesn't have a whole lot to do in act one, but are the central focus after intermission and display dedicated performances and sure vocals. Gabrielle Boyadjian is a crowd favorite as Billy's classmate Emily, scoring points as both a singer and a comedienne. Amy Bodnar, as Billy's foster mother Louise, is endearing and gets to perform "Make It From Scratch", a 1950s version of Falsettos's "I'm Breaking Down." Also providing worthwhile performances in supporting roles are Chris Peluso (John Robert), Heather Ayers (Ruth), and Duke Lafoon (Edward). In fact, each of the 18 cast members performs admirably.
The handsome set design by David Karins features a flying motif with two sets of tiered bi-plane wings, a performance space shaped like a military insignia, and a few set pieces. The lighting is by recent Tony Award winner Christopher Akerlind and appropriately sets the mood and atmosphere, as well as defining space for the show. Costume designer Marie Anne Chiment supplies attractive outfits for the characters across a number of time periods.
While Ace may be more fitting for a regional theater life than a run on Broadway, due to its size, scope and subject matter, it is a worthwhile effort with many redeeming qualities. The show boasts a solid score and a winning book, and the cast, director and designers do their part to make the production soar. These writers just had another one of their musicals, Journey to the West, performed in New York City as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival in September. Let's hope that these creators continue to fine tune Ace and to bring their obvious talents to more shows that Cincinnatians and others can enjoy.
Ace continues at Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park until November 17, 2006. For tickets and more information, call (513) 421-3888.
-- Scott Cain