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Four Aces For Signatuture Theatre's Musical 'Ace'


What a challenge it is to write a new musical with a story not based on a book, movie, or a historical figure. And what a challenge it is for a theater to mount such a musical. Signature Theatre has helped develop musicals about Edgar Allan Poe, evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and Vincent Van Gough. But with Ace, artistic director Eric Schaeffer has the challenge of presenting a musical with a subject that the audience has no idea about.  It concerns a multigenerational story of the history of aviation and the story of our nation's first fighter pilots and their families in World Wars I and II.

The musical has an interesting pedigree.  Richard Oberacker (score/lyrics) and Robert Taylor (book/lyrics) were both in the orchestra pit of the musical  The Lion King. Oberacker was the tour musical director and Taylor was the concertmaster. The two of them discussed ideas for their own show. Taylor's father happened to be a World War II fighter pilot.   Oberacker recalled viewing a TV documentary featuring NBC's Tom Brokaw and his interviews with the surviving families of soldiers and pilots killed in World War II for his book "The Greatest Generation".

The two spent nine weeks in St. Louis with The Lion King tour and they concluded this city in the heartland of America and due to its aviation  history would be a perfect location for their story. And it works perfectly.

Conceived and written in 2005, Ace had its world premiere in fact in St. Louis at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in 2007, followed by productions at the Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati and the San Diego Old Globe Theatre. The Signature Theatre is presenting the show's East Coast premiere.

So...what will you see? A new and fresh musical with superb singers, lovely melodies, a terrific orchestra (housed on the second level of the theater in the rear of the stage under the competent baton of David Kreppell) and a fascinating story about a young 10 year old boy (Danny) who discovers himself through a series of dreams about a flying ace.

One of the challenges facing director Schaeffer is that two of the stars of this epic journey are children and they are both talented and appealing.  Dalton Harrod is a believable Danny who is frustrated having his mother hospitalized, not knowing much of where he comes from, and being housed by a foster family. Almost stealing the spotlight is the wonderful Angelina Kelly as Danny's only friend. She is remarkable.  Think of a young Hillary Clinton, at least that's who I thought of.

There is no lack of talent among the adults either. Standouts among the women include Christiane Noll (Ruth), Emily Skinner (foster mother Louise), and Jill Paice (Elizabeth) who I would have loved to have seen as Sophie in Mamma Mia which she did in Las Vegas.

Among the men who matched the woman with their talent are Matthew Scott (Ace), Duke Lafoon (Edward) and Jim Stanek (John Robert).

You will be thrilled as the fighter pilots take to the air and engage the enemy (with terrific use of special effects and smart projections (by Michael Clark) on the set cleverly designed by Walt Spangler). The sound of the aircraft was amazing thanks to the work of Broadway veteran Simon Matthews

This is a great musical to introduce young people to the theater. Both boys and girls will thrill at how the battle scenes in the sky are replicated on stage.

Ace continues at the Signature until September 28. There is much talk of a transfer to Broadway. Who knows if this will occur.  Nevertheless, you will be sorry if you miss this fascinating story.

Ace continues until September 28. For tickets, call 703-573-7328 or visit

I also want to note that I couldn't help notice the Air Force Memorial on the way home just south of the Pentagon and the number of sculptures of small planes all over Crystal City, VA. What a coincidence.

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