Trey Ellis Tells Tuskegee Airmen’s Tale

Trey Ellis had done a lot of things in his life.

He’s written movies, books and TV shows. He’s been a political pundit, a social critic and a Huffington Post contributor. He’s won a Peabody, been nominated for an Emmy and shortlisted for a PEN Award.

Trey Ellis

Trey Ellis

He teaches at Columbia University, was a non-resident fellow at Harvard, and taught or lectured at Yale, NYU, the University of New Mexico, and in Brazil and France.

But until a decade ago, the Westport resident had never written a play.

That’s when the Lincoln Center Institute commissioned a work by Ellis about the Tuskegee Airmen. He’d already earned honors for a 1995 HBO film on the African American pilots who overcame fierce racism to become one of World War II’s finest US fighter groups. They never lost a bomber.

Ellis and Ricardo Khan turned the movie into an hour-long play, called “Fly.” Originally aimed at students, a longer version was staged a few years later at the Vineyard Theater in Massachusetts, then the Crossroads Theater in New Jersey — one of America’s leading black companies.

It’s since moved on to Ford’s Theatre in Washington — where several of the real Tuskegee Airmen saw it — and the Pasadena Playhouse.

Ellis is very proud of “Fly.” The other day — quoting Martin Luther King — he noted that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice. However, the playwright added, recent racial strife in America has made stories like the Airmen’s more relevant and important than ever.

Fly - Trey Ellis

Now “Fly” — which the New York Times called “a superior piece of theatrical synergy” — is coming to the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street. It runs March 11-27.

Ellis will be there. So will his family — including his son Chet (the name of one of the show’s main characters), and Chet’s friends.

But there’s one more place Ellis would like to see it produced: the Westport Country Playhouse.

“I go to as many productions there as I can,” the playwright says. “I would love to bring this to my adopted hometown.”

7 responses to “Trey Ellis Tells Tuskegee Airmen’s Tale

  1. Fred Cantor

    As a season subsciber to the Playhouse, I think that sounds like a great idea (and I imagine that, as a bonus, we could readily have a Q & A with the playwright after at least one of the performances). Hopefully that will happen in the next season or so.

  2. Peter Nathan


    You should be aware that the Tuskegee airmen (The Red Tails) help fend off German fighter planes against American bombers in which Westport’s own Ted Diamond was a navigator. In his words, “they saved our ass”.


    Peter W. Nathan
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    Westport, CT 06880-4749
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  3. Marilyn Payne

    I saw this wonderful play in Sarasota FL. (Former Westport resident)

    • Gary Singer

      Marilyn,I too saw this wonderful piece of Theatre in Sarasota, my home town after leaving Weston ( with a five year layover in Sedona, AZ). Great story and production

  4. the great bassist with the Modern Jazz Quartet (and my mentor and
    colleague), Percy Heath, was one of those Tuskegee airmen. God Rest Percy !

  5. Trey has been generous in volunteering his time here in Westport – sharing his experiences as a writer with students at Bedford Middle School, and speaking as part of the recent WestportREADS events honoring James McBride. Congratulations, Trey, on your play coming to the New Victory Theater!

  6. Josh Moritz

    Just booked tickets for March 26th, People should know that early March is selling out