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"Ace" Soars At Times

Signature opens flight-based musical.

Signature Theatre has opened a bright, big and bold production of a new musical that uses flight as a metaphor for human aspirations. It doesn’t rise like the rocket it seems to want to be, but it has enough high spots to make it a real lift on a hot summer night.

"Ace" is the product of the partnership of Richard Oberacker, who wrote an earlier Signature success, "The Gospel According to Fishman" with another collaborator, and Robert Taylor. Under the direction of Signature’s own ace director of musicals in development, Eric Schaeffer, "Ace" is brought to sometimes sparkling life by the likes of Broadway veterans Florence Lacey, Christiane Noll and Emily Skinner.

The real stars of the piece, however, are two children who have yet to reach their teens. Eleven-year-old Dalton Harrod has the starring role of a boy in search of the story of his father and his father’s father – both fighter pilots who achieved the level of "Ace" in the two world wars of the twentieth century.

Harrod is on stage almost the entire evening long, either participating in songs or scenes or witnessing the story as it unfolds. His comfort level on stage is notable in one so young, and he is able to lift his voice as well as his spirits at the right moments.

Joining Harrod at key points in the story is equally young Angelina Kelly, who wins the hearts of the audience as she puts together some of the clues that Harrod’s character needs to decipher to understand his own aeronautical heritage. Her big number of the first act, "Now I’m On Your Case" is a real crowd pleaser.

The adults are not to be dismissed, however. There’s Jill Paice, who just completed the run of "Curtains" on Broadway where she performed a most charming song and dance routine with David Hyde Pearce. She’s young Harrod’s mother here, and she gets to do a bit of soaring herself in the second act.

Emily Skinner, so absolutely bewitching in last year’s "The Witches of Eastwick" here at Signature, gives a solidly warm and humorous performance as the boy’s foster mother. Christiane Noll, who was also of note in "Eastwick" as well as being superbly crystalline in the original Broadway production of "Jekyll and Hyde," gives depth to the role of the boys’ grandmother as viewed from the time when she was a young woman.

The show doesn’t fare quite as well with the casting of the leading men, the aces who were the boys’ father and grandfather. Matthew Scott is the stronger of the two, the WWII ace. He soars quite impressively at times, and Jim Stanek does have a number of charming moments as the WWI ace. Neither carries the show to the heights it needs, however, like George Dvorsky does with his brief Act II stint as WWII General Claire Chennault who assembled the famous flying unit, the Flying Tigers.

With aeronautics the concept of the night, it is Walt Spangler’s aluminum and rivets set that draws much of the attention as its twin towers turn and its shiny surfaces reflect the projections of clouds, bomb bursts and locations. Then, too, there is the super stereo sounds of aircraft zooming about the space in Simon Matthews’ audio. Add Robert Perdziola’s attractive and effective costumes (shades of gray for one period, oranges and yellows for another) and there is plenty here to please the eye and the ear.

<i>Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a website covering theater in the region <a href=http://(www.PotomacStages.com> www.PotomacStages.com</a>). He can be reached at <a href=mailto:Brad@PotomacStages.com> Brad@PotomacStages.com</a>.

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