Matt Bogart and Chris Peluso in Ace
(© Jerry Naunheim, Jr.)
Matt Bogart and Chris Peluso in Ace
(© Jerry Naunheim, Jr.)
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has had its share of world premieres, but I'm not sure any have had the potential of the opener of the Rep's 40th season, Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor's new musical, Ace. Set appropriately enough in St. Louis in 1952, the show simply soars on every level, from its memorable score to its first-rate acting, led by real-life newlyweds and fellow Broadway stars Matt Bogart and Jessica Boevers.

The plot focuses on 10-year-old Billy Lucas (Noah Galvin), who is left emotionally scarred when he is given to foster parents after his mother attempts suicide. His new home is a troubled one until his foster dad gives him the gift of a toy model of a World War-II era airplane. Soon, Billy is visited in his dreams by a mysterious Army aviator named Ace (Matt Bogart), with whom he embarks on a series of adventures. As we travel from 1952 back through two World Wars, it becomes predictably clear early on why Ace has taken Billy through this series of dreams. Yet, even as we know the reason, it is still a great journey of discovery for both Billy and the audience.

Oberacker and Taylor's score is moving and exhilarating, and the recurring song "In These Skies," drives home the main theme of the show -- how to choose your own destiny and make it fly -- beautifully. Stafford Arima has directed the piece with flair and a real understanding of the power at the center of this play. David Korins' set design helps with the soaring feel of the show and the music.

But it's the cast that shines brightest. Galvin is a remarkable find as Noah, displaying a full range of emotions and filling the theatre with a beautiful and strong singing voice. Bogart, a veteran of such Broadway shows as Aida and Miss Saigon, is once again a strong presence on the stage. Amy Bodnar and Duke Lafoon are delightful as the Cleaver-type foster parents, and Chris Peluso shines as the World War I flying ace who brings Billy to a level of maturity that he's not really ready for. Mention must be made, as well, of the superb work of Gabrielle Boyadjian as Billy's newfound friend Emily.

Ace is something you don't see very often these days, a musical with an original story. While it has already been trimmed down to about two and a half hours, there is still a bit of fiddling that needs to be done here and there. But it's amazing how ready this show is for an audience, and theatergoers in St. Louis and in Cincinnati -- where the show will run October 17-November 17 at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park -- are in for a true treat. With any luck, Ace will soon be flying into other cities very soon.