“It is a unique story,” Brown said. “But it does need to be told in a way that combines the action and excitement of war together with the struggle for equality and civil rights. . . . The Tuskegee Airmen is not specifically about war. It’s about a struggle to overcome the prejudice and obstacles that we face.”
Brown came to the early days of rehearsal for “Fly” in August. “The greatest of experiences happened on the second day of rehearsal,” Khan said. “I put the cast in a triangular formation behind Dr. Brown [on folding chairs], and Dr. Brown took them through a few flights.” He simulated action, shouting out commands — Break right! Bank left! — and “just telling a story,” Khan said. “You could see him seeing the sky, feeling the wind.”
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An unconventional Eliza
“I’ve always felt that ‘My Fair Lady’ is a universal story, and the role of Eliza is one that could be played by actors of many different races,” said Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, who will direct the musical at Arena this season. Manna Nichols will be making her Arena debut in the titular role. “Manna is Asian,” said Smith. “When we went back and did the research [about London in 1912] . . . it was a huge melting pot in London at that time, so it’s very exciting to be able to have Eliza as a person of color.”
Nicholas Rodriguez, whose most recent turn in Arena’s “Oklahoma!” was also under Smith’s direction, will portray Freddy Eynsford-Hill. Smith, who also directed Rodriguez in “A Light in the Piazza,” said, “He’s very strong onstage.” And perhaps even more import, “he’s a real heartthrob.”
Benedict Campbell, who plays Henry Higgins in the production, is a Canadian actor with whom Smith has worked twice at the Shaw Festival. “He knows and understands [George Bernard] Shaw’s language like nobody that I’ve ever heard before. . . . Since ‘My Fair Lady’ is an adaptation of Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion,’ his use of language in the production is superb.”
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