nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
May 18, 2010
The final moment of the new musical Take Flight sent chills up my spine with its harmonious beauty and theatrical depth. It honestly brought a tear to my eye, which caught me off guard because for the most part I had not been emotionally engaged in the production to that point. But I desperately wanted to be engaged in every way because there is so much to admire about this American premiere.
Take Flight is an ambitious musical melding of the lives and achievements of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart. The greatest challenge for the show's creative team is that with three distinct stories to craft, little time is allotted to detailed character development. The male characters, in particular suffer under this constraint. Human beings are more than their accomplishments and likewise here these characters are more than their "obsessions." The greatest challenge for the audience is to follow three separate plotlines as they bounce between three different periods of time and different theatrical conventions. This is a singularly American saga presented in a uniquely American art form. But while Take Flight is not always successful moment to moment, I nonetheless found this original evening interesting, exciting, and loaded with potential.
The cast is extraordinary. Stanton Nash as Wilbur and Benjamin Schrader as Orville hit the right note and give credibility to the Wright Brothers, particularly springing to life in the second act and injecting much needed humor to the proceedings.
Claybourne Elder makes a dashing and determined Charles Lindbergh very much the hero of legend one would love to cheer on to greatness. But I couldn't help wishing he had a more unique and profound signature song that was all his own.
Jenn Colella is a delightfully spunky and strong Amelia Earhart who makes the most of the best musical numbers in the show. Michael Cumpsty is earnest and appealing as Earhart's publicist and husband George Putnam. His genuine concern for her welfare rings true and comes closest to exploring the emotional toll paid by the human sacrifices made in pursuit of aviation history.
William Youmans, Price Waldman, Bobby Day, Todd A. Horman, Marya Grandy, Linda Gabler, and Carey Rebecca Brown make an excellent ensemble excelling in numerous smaller roles and, if anything, are under-used in this production.
Set and costumes by David Farley are magnificent and perfectly evocative of an early 20th century, although the suspended "cockpits" for Charles and Amelia felt a bit awkward and the performers seemed somewhat uncomfortable in them.
The book by John Weidman and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. focus heavily on the main characters' obsessions for achievement, sometimes to the detriment of the storyline, making the first act in particular feel rather repetitive and one note (so to speak). The music and orchestrations by David Shire are rich and musically complex but at times lack a certain variety. However, the numbers "Throw it to the Wind," "Before the Dawn," "Better than Love," "The Funniest Thing," and the "Finale" are worth the price of admission.
Director Sam Buntrock and musical stager Lisa Shriver give us some inventive staging, combining realism and theatricality in a way that leaves one wanting even more creativity to fuse these three thematically related stories into one unique cohesive story of Flight. Wonderful moments that stand out in this respect are in the second act when Earhart speaks to Lindbergh through time and space to inspire him not to quit and the fabulous way Earhart, Lindbergh, and the Wright Brothers symbolically come together in the Finale.
I recommend Take Flight for anyone wishing to exercise his or her imagination and experience something different and more inventive than your typical formulaic musical production. As this is the American premiere, it is my hope that the creative team will continue to develop this deserving and delightful work in the future. Take Flight continues its run at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey through June 6th. The McCarter is just across the street from the train station, making it an easy trip for anyone wanting expand their theatrical horizons.