By Bob Evans
Before the famed Kitty Hawk flight of the Wright Brothers, a Texas preacher developed and flew an airship as told in a true story of faith and aviation that entertained capacity crowds during Kansas City’s Fringe Festival on the Levin Stage of the Unicorn Theatre.
At the turn of the century when new contraptions like moving staircases, known as escalators, and telegraph machines made national headlines, in Pittsburg, Texas, Ezekiel Airship definitely made the town the focus and envy of other aviation entrepreneurs. The new musical about an aviation pioneer, The Story of the Century has the look and feel of a show destined to grow and travel.
This production, reminiscent of The Music Man, is sweet and unique. It has the possibility of expanding to a full two-and-a-half-hour musical. With some big-time treatment some added production numbers and a triple-sized cast, this show could be Broadway-worthy.
The hour-long production is tantalizing. There are intriguing story lines about a school teacher, the women’s suffrage movement, the women’s temperance movement, and an African-American family who throws caution to the wind to invest in a flying contraption. The choreography is sharp. The score and lyrics are simple and memorable. The costumes show research and understanding of the period piece Strong vocal performances and sturdy acting hold the piece together tightly.
The Story of the Century comes from the pen on David Hill who not only researched and wrote the stage play but also composed the music and wrote the lyrics. Additional music and lyrics were written and arrangements made by Sarah Hill. Direction is by Chris McCoy. Marybeth Sorrell designed the production and served as production manager for this mounting. Brant Challacombe served as musical director and arranger.
The amazingly talented cast that brought this production to Kansas City Fringe audiences is: Blair Wooton, Heather Lawler, Matthew Hendrickson, Valerie Bracken Dykes, DeMarcus Howell, Ashley Jones, Joshua Gleeson, Kaelyn Whitt, Connor Eastman, Michael Seahill, Langston Hemenway, Laura Schwartz, Carrie Lenahan, Haley Carol Segeng, Courtney Koval. The combo, providing live accompaniment is: Brant Challacombe, Spencer Thut, Jared Rivers. The crew is: Zoe Spangler, Erin Hill Metcalf, Avery Metcalf, Leah Brown.
David O. Hill
The Story of the Century is an original musical about the invention of the Ezekiel Airship, an airplane designed and built by Burrell Cannon that flew one year before the Wright Brothers’ historic flight. Set in Pittsburg, Texas in 1902, the musical captures the spirit of the era with rollicking melodies, social consciousness, and heart. Was Cannon a revolutionary inventor, a visionary prophet, or a misguided dreamer? This is the question that newspaper reporter Elmer Baker hopes to answer in writing the Story of the Century. Warning: Smoke, Haze or Fog