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Fisher’s solo show isn’t the only flashy, star-studded name-dropper in town: Signature Theatre opened an expensive-looking new musical last week, with New York theater notables onstage and visions of Broadway dancing in its handsomely coiffed head.
And as you may have heard, the paper of record has turned up its nose in a big way: “With some judicious trims,” wrote The Washington Post’s lead critic, “the aviation-themed Ace might be a candidate for long-term showcasing at a venue such as the Air and Space Museum.”
But don’t despair, if you’ve already plunked down your nonrefundable $86 for that Friday-night seat: It’s not quite that lame.
Not that it’s ready for prime time, exactly. What it is: overstuffed, and largely nonsensical, if stylishly packaged.
Surly, 10-year-old Danny (Dalton Harrod) winds up in a foster home after his mother (Jill Paice) attempts suicide. For reasons that remain stubbornly unclear, Mom’s effort to win the kid back revolves—in the face of urgent entreaties from Florence Lacey’s worried social worker—around a kind of historical scavenger hunt in which model airplanes, old diary entries, and sundry newspaper clippings reveal, piece by tidily chronological piece, the stories of the boy’s long-missing fighter-pilot father (Matthew Scott), the courtship that brought Mom and Dad first bliss and then heartbreak, and the grandparents (Christiane Noll, Jim Stanek) whose influence set the crash-and-burn course for everything that would follow.
As if the hide-a-clue device—and the two generations of territory it covers—weren’t enough, Ace is also concerned with charting the history of U.S. military aviation and with honoring its heroes, both men and machine. (Thus, you see, the title. And the Air and Space Museum crack. And the “overstuffed.”)
Still, the tunes are agreeable (if a bit same-same), and the performers largely first-rate. Paice, whose wan grief in Act 1 gives way to a winning vivaciousness after intermission, summons a scorching rage later still, when the plot (somehow convoluted and predictable all at once) demands it.
And Angelina Kelly, as a pigtailed playground detective who helps Danny parse the riddles Mom keeps parceling up and shipping over to the foster home, hooks the audience in the early going—and reels ‘em in, gasping with delight, with a saucy showstopper of a solo called “Now I’m on Your Case.”
Robert Perdziola’s costumes upholster the show’s three major eras—the two World Wars, plus the early 1950s—in an easy-to-decode visual vocabulary, while Walt Spangler’s efficient steel set, with a substantial assist from Michael Clark’s precisely calibrated projections, suggests cockpits and barrooms, classrooms and bedrooms and leafy campuses with surprising grace.
All that style, all that skill, and mostly for naught: Ace keeps trying to soar, but all the ground clutter keeps it firmly earthbound.