Black Aviatrix Bessie Coleman Sings in Musical Barnstormer at NYC's Lark

News   Black Aviatrix Bessie Coleman Sings in Musical Barnstormer at NYC's Lark
Barnstormer, a new musical inspired by the true story of first female black aviator Bessie Coleman, will receive a BareBones Production at the Lark Play Development Center Nov. 5-16.

Book and lyrics are by Cheryl L. Davis (winner of the Kleban Award for the libretto) and the music is by Douglas J. Cohen (No Way To Treat a Lady, The Big Time, The Opposite of Sex). Jerry Dixon (Once on this Island, Laugh Whore) will direct, with musical direction by Bill Tinsley.

Tickets are $15 and are available through or by calling (866) 811-4111. All performances will take place at the Lark Studio, 939 Eighth Ave. between 55th and 56th Streets.

The developmental production includes Cheryl Alexander (Dreamgirls), Erica Ash (theATrainplays), Stu James (Rent), Andre Montgomery (Five Guys Named Moe), Ken Prymus (Cats), David St. Louis (The Scarlet Pimpernel) and Gayle Turner (The Wiz).

"Before Amelia Earhart, there was Bessie Coleman," according to Lark notes. "In 1917 there weren't a lot of options for a black girl in rural Waxahachie, Texas, but Bessie Coleman had a dream, and she eventually traveled all the way to Paris to learn to fly because no American school would teach her. Determined to start a flying school for Black Americans, Bessie raised funds by performing breathtaking aerial shows as a 'barnstormer,' until a tragic accident ended both her career and her life. Although Bessie never saw the fruits of her labors, her nephew went on to become a World War II flyer with the Tuskegee Airmen, fulfilling her dream."

In 1995, the United States Postal Service honored Bessie Coleman for her achievements with a Commemorative Stamp. "Bessie's journey from the cotton fields to the clouds is the foundation of this exciting and powerful musical that explores what it takes to realize your dreams in a world that keeps you down," according to the Lark. "It is a story about courage, determination and a true American spirit."

The Lark has been working with Davis and Cohen on developing Barnstormer since 2004. In April 2005 it conducted a Studio Retreat that culminated in a public reading of the play in conjunction with the Stamford Center for the Performing Arts.

"It is no surprise to say that America is often slow to acknowledge the untold acts of courage and determination of its disenfranchised," stated John C. Eisner, producing director for the Lark. "Bessie Coleman made an enormous impact on her community by first imagining and then realizing a seemingly impossible dream."

The works of Davis (book and lyrics) have been read and performed nationally, including at the Cleveland Play House, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Kennedy Center. She is a co-recipient of the 2005 Kleban Award for her work as a librettist, and Barnstormer received one of the 2005 Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Awards, under the auspices of the Lark. Her play about the desegregation of the nations' school system, The Color of Justice, which was commissioned by Theatreworks/USA and received critical acclaim. Her play Cover Girls, which is an adaptation of the Bishop T. D. Jakes novel, was recently produced and toured by Clear Channel Entertainment. She received a commission from the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science and Technology Project to write The Bones of Giants, about 19th century American paleontologists O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope. This play received readings as part of EST's 2003 and 2004 First Light Festivals and Octoberfest 2003, and a workshop presentation in May 2005. She has a degree in English and a certificate in theatre and dance from Princeton University, and has studied playwriting with Jean-Claude Van Itallie and Jeffrey Sweet. She was a Dramatists Guild Fellow in 2002, and was mentored by playwright/librettist Alfred Uhry. She is an alumna of the Playwrights' Lab of the Women's Project and Productions, of the River Writers Unit of the Ensemble Studio Theatre, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. She is a practicing attorney in Manhattan and works at the firm of Menaker & Herrmann LLP.

Composer Cohen is the composer/lyricist of The Big Time, which recently debuted at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) with a book by Douglas Carter Beane and directed by Christopher Ashley. He has written the score for the New York bound musical, The Opposite of Sex, based on the Don Roos film, which premiered at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco directed by his co-librettist, Robert Jess Ross. Cohen won two Richard Rodgers Awards and the coveted Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Award for writing the book, music, and lyrics to No Way To Treat A Lady (produced twice off-Broadway (Outer Critics Circle nomination Best Revival, York Theatre Co.) and The Gig (Goodspeed, Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II, California Musical Theatre). He was nominated for a 2005 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics for Children's Letters to God.

The Lark Play Development Center "provides American and international playwrights with indispensable resources to develop their work." The Lark "nurtures artists at all stages in their careers, inviting them to express themselves freely in a supportive and rigorous environment."

Leading the organization are producing director John Clinton Eisner and managing director Daniella Topol. To learn more about the Lark, visit


Plays developed at the Lark regularly go on to full productions at theatres across the country. This year Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House was featured at the Yale Rep, South Coast Rep and The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia and will be performed at Lincoln Center next year; Daphne Greaves' Day of the Kings had its premiere at the Alliance Theatre in January 2005 and Welcome to Arroyo's by Kristoffer Diaz was presented at the Hip-Hop Theater Festival and The New York Summer Play Festival.

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