Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Dayton, Ohio is honoring the 100th anniversary of powered flight (by their native sons, the Wright Brothers) with a year-long celebration entitled Inventing Flight. Therefore, it is appropriate that Dayton's primary theater group, the Human Race Theatre Company, join in the festivities by presenting a fully staged production of a world premiere musical concerning flight. Wild Blue is a revue of songs exploring man's fascination with taking to the skies and conquering gravity. The show is the final installment of this season's Musical Theatre Workshop Series by Human Race and is the first event to play the new Mathile Theatre in the Schuster Performing Arts Center.
Wild Blue is structured around a young man who dreams at night about seemingly every element of flight. Within those dreams, he meets aviation's most famous figures, such as the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and Chuck Yeager, as well as lesser-known pioneers including Bessie Coleman, an African American woman who became a stunt pilot in the 1920s. The young dreamer also explores aviation folklore and other flying related themes by way of Leonardo da Vinci, early balloon flight, the myth of Icarus, and modern day airlines.
The 85-minute intermissionless revue pretty much covers the gambit of flight-related themes and does a decent job of connecting the songs via the dreamer and his guide. At times, however, it would have been nice to have that concept more clearly defined and realized.
Wild Blue is the work of composer Rob Hartmann and lyricists Scott Keys and Liv Cummins. The revue contains a good deal of pastiche, as well as songs from various musical styles, starting with a jazzy opening number, a bluesy torch song, bluegrass and Caribbean flavored tunes, and even a rockabilly song by an Elvis-inspired Chuck Yeager. The lyrics are often witty, rarely forced or repetitive, and sufficiently communicate the details of the history and message of each song. The show has an effective balance of humor ("Afternoon Adventure," "Stews") and serious moments ("Time Flies," "Wild Blue"). Some beautiful choral arrangements are also showcased in songs such as "Gonna Amount To Something" and "Daughters & Sons of Ohio."
The Human Race Theatre Company has once again brought together top-notch performers for their production. Each of the five actors shows off powerful and well-executed vocals throughout. As the young dreamer, David Ranson is winningly appealing and displays colorful facial expressions. Lisa Howard is a wonderfully impressive singer and a joy to watch perform. Scott Stoney skillfully carves out fully developed characters as usual. As Amelia Earhart and other characters, Christine Ciccone evokes both empathy and humor. Braden Miles is probably given the show's weakest material, but performs admirably. Greg Anthony capably leads a talented four-piece band.
Director Kevin Moore provides many smooth transitions and his often excellent staging is at its best in "Stews," "Up, Up, Up," and "W.A.S.P. Suite," a salute to female pilots during World War II as Women Air Force Service Pilots. Scenic designer Scott J. Kimmins provides a lovely yet simple stage flanked by four vertical biplane wings. A cloud motif, a bed that transforms into another useful prop, and projections also continue the theme. The costumes by Mary Beth McLaughlin include imaginative and appropriately themed outfits. For "Lighter Than Air," she even supplies enormous hot air balloon Howard Crabtree-style hats. Colorful and atmospheric lighting by John Rensel is also professionally rendered.
Wild Blue is truly a celebration of the universal and eternal desire to fly, regardless of race, gender, or nationality. With many enjoyable songs, a generally effective narrative, wonderful performers, and great direction and design, the show is sure to please both fans of theater and flight. The Human Race Theatre Company presents this world premiere show through July 13, 2003. For tickets, call 937-228-3630.