Theater Review: "Black Angels over Tuskegee"

“Black Angels Over Tuskegee,” Layon Gray’s sturdy drama about trailblazing African-American fighter pilots entering the European theater in World War II, gets by on the charm of the cast and a commitment to the rules of the uplifting inspirational melodrama.

The leisurely 2-hour-20-minute play is full of good intentions, decent talent and not an ounce of daring. Mr. Gray, who stages his own work, steers his underdog story so cautiously, moving in the straightest of lines, that you don’t always realize how deftly he’s setting you up. Bracketing this agreeable drama is that old device, the folksy narrator (Antonio D. Charity), who provides historical context and dictionary definitions of racism and segregation. “You see, I believe in the principle that all men are created equal,” he says at the start....

Every sympathetic character hits one note over and over, but Mr. Gray has the instincts of an entertainer, and the rapport his actors have established is persuasive enough to distract you from the formulaic aspects of the drama. As manipulative, obvious and sentimental as it is, this show is also tough to resist. By the end, when the pilots overcame their obstacles and finally got up into the air to the swelling of music, tears welled up in my eyes right after I rolled them.

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