- by Jacob Coakley
Flying by Foy recreates their flying magic for shows of all levels
When the theatrical rights for the Broadway musical Mary Poppins became available to amateur and high school drama groups in January of this year, Music Theatre International awarded the first of the rights packages to Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nev., just a stone’s throw from Flying by Foy’s global headquarters in Las Vegas. Foy provided the flying effects for the show, including “Bert’s proscenium walk” during the “Step In Time” number, in which the chimney sweep walks up one side of the proscenium, tap dances upside down across the top and strolls down the other side to the stage.
The flying in Green Valley’s production of Mary Poppins exemplifies a Foy tradition of developing flying sequences for original Broadway shows, then re-creating the flying for professional regional productions as the rights become available. The company had already flown such productions at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre and Center for the Arts in Ivins, Utah; Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre in Idaho; and the Maine State Music Theatre. Eventually, the same Foy flying magic is made available to amateur productions at high schools and community theatres throughout the United States.
In 1954, Peter Foy arrived in New York to develop the flying sequences for a new musical production of Peter Pan on Broadway. Mary Martin wanted her Peter Pan to fly higher, faster, farther than had ever been attempted before, and Foy agreed. But the flying equipment of the day was not equal to the task. To achieve the star’s physical and artistic demands, Foy re-worked the available equipment and came up with a wholly new flying system that he called “the Inter-Related Pendulum,” a combination that enabled him to extend the boundaries of Martin’s aerial trajectory beyond what were traditionally considered to be the “control zones” and move her very, very rapidly through the air. The resulting effect was precisely what Mary Martin was looking for and, during the flying rehearsals, she would zip back and forth above the stage, yelling “Faster! Faster!!”
The show was a smashing success, winning Tony awards for Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard (Captain Hook). It was broadcast live on NBC in 1955, attracting a then-record audience of 65 million viewers and garnering an Emmy award for Martin’s performance. The first broadcast of Peter Pan was so well-received that NBC had it re-staged for a second live broadcast in 1956. Martin’s Peter Pan was produced once more in 1960, this time for a videotape recording that the network could rebroadcast again and again.
By the time Flying by Foy was established in 1957, the demand for Peter Foy’s personal services had extended to flying stars on television, special flying and mechanical effects for lavish Las Vegas production shows and wire work for feature films. But it was the volume of requests for productions of Peter Pan that repeatedly sent him back to the drawing board to design new systems for flying the show as it turned up in non-standard theatrical venues—a tent theatre in Sacramento, for example, or a theatre-in-the round in Fort Worth—that lacked the minimum ceiling height required to effectively use an Inter-Related Pendulum.
Foy solved the problem of low height situations with his invention of Track on Track, an ingenious arrangement that could be easily configured for use in a broad range of theatrical venues, and made flying productions of Peter Pan a possibility for virtually any theatre group in America.
Over the years, Flying by Foy has provided services to literally thousands of productions of Peter Pan, as well as the flying effects Foy created for more than 50 Broadway shows, including Angels in America, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Jesus Christ Superstar, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 9 to 5, Monty Python’s Spamalot, Seussical, Superman, The Who’s Tommy, The Wizard of Oz and now, of course, Mary Poppins.
Foy flying was featured in last season’s American Idiot and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and two current Broadway musicals, The Lion King and Cinderella, plus the upcoming Hedwig and the Angry Inch, due to premiere on March 29th.
Flying by Foy continues to be the innovative proving ground for the latest advances in flying technology, with ultra-responsive, high-speed winches and state-of-the-art automated systems like Aereographer, the world’s most advanced design tool for flying automation, and Foy’s Flight Assist, an amazing hybrid of automation and manual control (how do they do that?) used to fly Billy Elliot on Broadway.