Flying Lessons: Show Review by Hannah Singer


(photo credit: Hector Sanchez Jr.)

When I was initially presented with the opportunity to review this musical, I had no idea what to expect and if it would be child-friendly. My date to the play was my 11 year old tween daughter who attends middle school. She likes to think she is 18 and leans towards sassiness. Although, as her mom, I often still see the little girl in her. As I researched what FLYING LESSONS was about, I thought it would be fun for her to see and perhaps learn something, and luckily she agreed! She ended up laughing and crying throughout this play along with me and the other audience members of all ages.

Isabella is the main character, a beautiful Latina middle school girl played wonderfully by Esmeralda Nazario. She lives with her single mom Lydia, played superbly by Desiree Montes.

The story mainly takes place in Isabella’s school classroom and in her bedroom at home. There are some dream and daydream sequences and songs for which reality needs to be suspended. She, after all, meets with both Amelia Earhart, played by Megan Valle (the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean) and Frederick Douglass, played by Brandon Martin (after escaping slavery, he became a national leader of abolitionist movement and a speaker and writer of significance).

Isabella is given an assignment at school by her teacher  Ms. Young, played by Briana Moten. Ms. Moten does a rap song early in the play that sounded like I could have heard it on the radio, it was so well done. This, after the initial song “Gotta Get Up” that started the play out perfectly with an upbeat, fun tempo everyone loved, with the unique classmates in her school dancing and singing.

Isabella needs to figure out who to write an essay about, someone who did something great. Hence, her meeting with Amelia Earhart and Frederick Douglass. During their meeting we actually learn about their lives a bit more than we knew before. In addition there are some great songs sung by all three and Brandon Martin was a standout with his robust voice.

Isabella has some, let’s just say, not so good interactions with her mom. Understandably, as she is a teen. Terrific acting and singing by Desiree Montes, who plays the mom, another standout performance.

Isabella has some quirky classmates. Each one equally funny in their roles. And as the blundering vice-principal, David Lowe gave me a chuckle whenever he was on stage.

Isabella learns about what makes someone great while speaking with Earhart and Douglass. We follow her learning and writing her essay as she lists the qualities one has when greatness is achieved. She learns both about history and about herself. The audience really got emotional hearing about Frederick Douglas’s life.

There are a few social issues touched upon throughout the story which actually turns out to have some moral and political statements snuck into the, at times, funny and sad story about a girl and her essay. Touched upon is the relationship between mothers and daughters, about being a single mom, about female discrimination and racism, about friendship and acceptance, about coming out as trans, about middle school feelings, about love.

You will laugh and you will cry throughout. You will stomp your feet to the music. At the end of the play, it all worked out and we leave feeling we have gone through something deep. It is an emotional ending and time for tissues.

(photo credit: Hector Sanchez Jr.)

Flying lessons refers to a few things in the play, as I see it. Besides the obvious one of Amelia Earhart, flying refers to what Frederick Douglass did in escaping slavery…he had to flee from his circumstances. Flying can also be seen represented by Isabella learning how to better navigate her relationship with her mom, or flee from her past behaviors.

I enjoyed the singing and choreography, and the energy of the talent was all very impressive. The lighting was good as well as the simple stage setting. There were major standouts in performance, some of whom I am sure we will see and hear about for years to come.

This was the world premiere production. It was an official Selection of the 2019 New York Festival’s Next Link Project. Presented at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center at 480 West 42nd Street.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Donald Rupe, Additional music by Cesar De La Rosa. Music Direction & Orchestrations by Josh Ceballos.

Orchestrations by JASON M. BAILEY. Music Director Jason M. Bailey, Choreography by Kathleen Wessel, and Directed by Donald Rupe.

Scenic Design: Sarah Allen, Lighting Design: Jake Teixeira, Costume Design: Christine Hicks and Adam Prosper Ledo

The show stars Esmeralda Nazario as Isabella, Megan Valle (PlayFest, Orlando Shakes; Legally Blonde, The LEX), as Amelia Earhart, Brandon Martin (Walt Disney World Resort) as Frederick Douglass, Michelle Cohen (Wizard of Oz, The Muny; Peter and the Starcatcher, Theatre Aspen) as Cynthia, Briana Moten (The Secret Silk directed by Stephen Schwartz) as Ms. Young, Deanna Quintero as Madison, Desiree Montes as Lydia, Erick Perafan (Universal Studios) as Billy and David Lowe as Vice Principal Mishgenheifer/Hugh Auld.

Running Time: 90 Minutes without intermission.

From July 8-August 4, 2019, various concerts, productions, readings and events were performed as part of the New York Musical Festival. Visit nymf.org.

 

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