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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Ace

Also see Susan's reviews of The Road to Mecca and Wishful Drinking

Ace, the new musical receiving its East Coast premiere at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is obviously still a work in progress: the song list is in a state of flux, and apparently the title character used to have a lot more to do than he does now. Still, the piece has a lot of promise as well as some structural difficulties. (Start by changing the title to "In These Skies," after the song that serves as an anthem for the show.)

Ace
Dalton Harrod, Duke Lafoon and Cast

The musical by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker (book and lyrics), with music by Oberacker, uses the literal act of flight as a metaphor for discovery and creativity. In early 1950s St. Louis, as costumed by Robert Perdziola in a palette of gray, black, and white, 10-year-old Danny Lucas (Dalton Harrod) is the sullen, defensive child of Elizabeth (Jill Paice), an emotionally fragile single mother. When circumstances force Danny to move into a foster home, his mother sends him gifts to help him discover the family history she had never shared with him.

The strictly linear, schematic structure of Ace is a handicap. Each of Elizabeth's packages and instructions—seek out this person, read this letter, find out what is special about this model airplane—is, quite literally, part of a "by the numbers" approach to storytelling. Although the scenes do come to life onstage, they do so with more telling and less showing than one might wish for in a musical. Director Eric Schaeffer is hemmed in here by the material.

Harrod is the emotional center of the production, and he gives a performance with poise and charm beyond his years. Paice eventually gets a chance to show more sides of her character than the distraught woman of the early scenes, and Jim Stanek radiates conviction as the hero of one of Elizabeth's stories. Angelina Kelly is fun as an outcast girl who befriends Danny, and Emily Skinner gives a warm-hearted performance as Danny's foster mother, trying her best to master parenthood with little practice, but they are still peripheral characters and their songs have little to do with the main plot.

Walt Spangler's scenic design uses abstract, free-standing metallic structures to continue the aviation theme, although they do give an austere, rigid look to the domestic scenes. Michael Clark's projections provide a more literal view of flight.

Signature Theatre
Ace
August 27th September 28th
Book and lyrics by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker
Music by Richard Oberacker
Ace: Matthew Scott
Elizabeth: Jill Paice
Danny: Dalton Harrod
Mrs. Crandall: Florence Lacey
Louise: Emily Skinner
Edward: Duke Lafoon
Emily: Angelina Kelly
John Robert: Jim Stanek
Ruth: Christiane Noll
Lt. Sanders/Sullivan: Richard Barth
Col. Whitlow/Chennault: George Dvorsky
Tenneman/Arnie: Jason Reiff
Harold Bixby/Cooper/Myron: Danny Rothman
Mrs. Gebert/Clara: Tracy Lynn Olivera
Nurse/Librarian: Elizabeth Share
Anique: Gabrielle Stravelli
Sidekick: Brooke Bloomquist
Young Charlie/Bully: Ari Goldbloom-Helzner
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Choreography by Karma Camp
Music direction and conduction by David Kreppel
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or www.signature-theatre.org


Photo: : Stan Barouh


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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