Fly, Blackbird

Original Off-Broadway Cast, 1962 (Mercury/Stage Door) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) The cast album of this virtually forgotten musical is especially notable for two of its principal cast members: Avon Long, whose lengthy and distinguished career included stage performances and recordings of the role of Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess; and Robert Guillaume, whose Broadway appearances in Kwamina, Purlie, and the 1976 production of Guys and Dolls preceded his fame as the star of TV’s Benson. With music by C. Jackson, and book and lyrics by Jackson and James Hatch,  Fly Blackbird concerns the struggle for African-American civil rights in America in the early 1960s as seen from the differing points of view of an older black man and members of a younger generation. Long’s character counsels patience in achieving racial equality and eliminating discrimination, while his daughter (Mary Louise), her boyfriend (Guillaume), and the other young people take an activist approach. The song titles — “Everything Comes to Those Who Wait,” “Now,” “Mister Boy,” “Old White Tom,” “Wake Up,” etc. — pretty much tell the story. One of the highlights of the score is “Natchitoches, Louisiana” in which a black police officer (Leonard Parker) and a white prison matron (Helon Blount) learn that they may have a lot more in common than was at first apparent. The show’s lyrics are sometimes a bit pedestrian but sincere, and they’re set to attractive if not especially memorable melodies by Jackson. — Michael Portantiere