New Theatre

Flying Easy

Flying easy


 Ken Robinson as Donny Hathaway, Yale Cabaret 2009

Ken Robinson as Donny Hathaway, Yale Cabaret 2009

Flying Easy is a musical play that explores the life and legacy of legendary soul artist Donny Hathaway.

The piece is written for a cast of five and a four-piece band.

Hathaway’s life and death are the subject of much conjecture, so Flying Easy tells his story exclusively through the lyrics of songs he composed and recorded.


Act I

FLYING EASY is the song that opens the show. The breezy lyrics belie the drama of the moment: From the window ledge of his 15th floor room at New York City’s Essex House Hotel, Donny remembers his life: his grandmother Martha who raised him alone; a fellow student Eulaulah who would become his wife; his most popular musical collaborator Roberta; and his companion through it all, Loneliness.

The first act proceeds through the events of Donny's life -- growing up, finding love, discovering his calling and being discovered.

He makes the acquaintance of Loneliness -- the embodiment of the music industry -- from a lurking promoter to a demanding producer to a smug award show host. He watches as his musical partner Roberta Flack rockets to stardom.

Donny struggles to move forward in an industry that seems less and less interested in the art he is producing. He works night and day and his mental state is becoming unsteady. His wife Eulalah tries to help, but he ignores her to get back to work. He finally produces a hit, and flying high, returns to the stage.

At the concert, he seems back to his old self, stirring the audience up like a preacher in church. At the song's height, he suddenly becomes disoriented, and his band watched helplessly as Donny suffers a massive breakdown.

Act II

The second act finds us in the darkness of Donny's mind. In a place "where there's no space or time." The band is gone, and Donny is accompanied by a lone musician. The following quote describes the nature of Loneliness in this act:

A phenomenon that a number of people have noted while in deep depression is the sense of being accompanied by a second self - a wraithlike observer who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles against the oncoming disaster, or decides to embrace it.

Loneliness enters as Donny's double. 

ken reflection.jpeg

Donny struggles to find his way back to the world of the first act -- to his audience, his band, to love, energy and light of life. Roberta manages to bring him back for a concert, but his double torments him, and he breaks down again.

Finally, Donny stops fighting. Loneliness returns as Donny's producer, and hands him one last song: A SONG FOR YOU.

Donny sings to his loved ones -- Martha, Eulalah and Roberta before facing the audience one last time. And completing the final note, he finds himself back on the window ledge, back on the 15th floor of the Essex house where his journey into memory began. Loneliness is by his side. 

He takes a last deep breath in as the lights fade to black.

A Note on Style

There was no stage show, no flying mothership or ‘Star Time’ theatrics...But Donny Hathaway, spot-lit at the piano, could bring the drama....

In the spirit of Mr. Hathaway, we are letting the music speak for itself. The only "text" of the piece are lyrics to the songs Donny sang and words he actually spoke. 

Additionally, we are developing a style of "documentary movement" that physically QUOTES from the ways that Donny moved. From the way Donny used his signature apple cap to hide and reveal his face to the tension in his shoulders as the music took him over, the physical life of the piece is another way we let Donny speak.

The show is a concert that traces the arc of Donny's struggle, as he looks back from the end of his life. The profundity of his pain and joy are expressed so clearly in his songs -- feelings that are deeply recognizable to so many of us. In FLYING EASY, we stage them to make them real: the embrace of loved ones shows community, the grip of a mocking lover is loneliness, a tender look that hardens is hate, and the empty stage is alienation. These moments of storytelling are woven through an evening thick with song and the spirit of the brilliant Donny Hathaway.