Review: Under a Rainbow Flag (Pride Films and Plays)

| March 28, 2013
Nick Stockwell and Sam Button-Harrison in Under A Rainbow Flag by Pride Films and Plays.        
Under a Rainbow Flag 

Book, Music and Lyrics by Leo Schwartz
Directed by David Zak 
at The Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
thru April 21   |  tickets: $10-$25   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review 


“Hell of a war!” – and hell of a story


Sam Button-Harrison, Jordan Phelps, James Nedrud, and Nick Stockwell in Under A Rainbow Flag presented by Pride Films and Plays.

Pride Films and Plays presents
Under a Rainbow Flag

Review by Clint May 

One of the little niceties of being a critic is that, should any special guests be coming to view a show, it’s likely the same night as your review. It was with no small amount of relish that I was able to learn at intermission that the very same Jon Philips, whose memoirs provided the inspiration for the world premiere Under A Rainbow Flag, was sitting two rows ahead of me. That this WWII vet would be able to see a world in which our first black president not once but twice mentions LGBT issues in an interview, or see his own story told with such obvious affection, warms the heart on these cold winter nights. Looking back in time to be timely, Leo Schwartz’s musical distillation of the events surrounding a “Band of Sisters” (technically men, yes, but given that female names are their codespeak, this seems more appropriate) in and after WWII is a bittersweet valentine to the brave people who broke barriers of all types at a time when even speaking certain things aloud was taboo. Blending warm wit and pathos in equal measure, Flag is poignant reminder of struggles past and the powerful bonds of friendship.

James Nedrud and Luis Herrera in Under A Rainbow Flag presented by Pride Films and Plays. On a troop transport train from Chicago, shy young naval corpsman Jon Philips (Sam Button-Harrison) takes some of the first small steps out of the closet with the help of some  fellow queens with whom he finds himself serendipitously traveling. The relationships they form on that trip to San Francisco will change them forever, united as they are by their shared desires and inner fabulousness. It’s career man and smooth-talker Paul Gibbs (Nick Stockwell) that steals Philips’ heart, and their week in the streets of The City by the Bay will have a ripple effect for both their lives long after the war has ended. Closer to the battle, surgeon Stefano (Jordan Phelps) breaks the color barrier with soldier Owens (Donterrio Johnson), and mechanic Russell (James Nedrud) finds love with Bender (Luis Herrera). Stateside, Paul has met his match in a colonel’s independence-minded daughter Donna (Kyrie Anderson). Together, they form a marriage of convenience that may or not maximize either of their happiness when Donna isn’t so sure she can look the other way while Paul’s heart remains frozen with Philips.

While the events of the war encompass the first act and are engrossing in and of themselves, it’s the second act’s exploration of the years after that is most heartbreaking. Some will hold vigils for love lost to war or societal pressures, while others forge their own paths. Throughout, their friendship provides much needed sanctuary. It’s a sense of community that has regrettably diminished with increased acceptance.

What Flag does that some other biopics don’t is to remember that it wasn’t all fear and fervency then—there were moments of great fun and just downright fabulousness too. The uptempo energy of “Put On Your Hat and Heels” and “Queens” mingles with the more forlorn “Alone, with Love” and “Hold Him Close To Your Heart” melodies. The song-booky numbers often have a jazzy/bluesy feel appropriate to the era, and a cast with a homely—if not extremely remarkable—ability. While everyone has their heart fully invested (what the characters lack in depth they make up for in cheeky likeability) it’s Nedrud’s Russell that steals the show, playing a vivacious queen thrilled to get a medal for excellence in grease monkeying and even happier to find love despite his insecurities. And, because I’m an artist and designer myself, I’m compelled to give a shout out to Ashley Ann Woods for some very nicely painted scenic backdrops of WWII posters.

Despite being a few shades of overlong (always a problem when the source material is so loved), director David Zak keeps the pace zipping along and thus it’s hard to notice the time. By show’s end, you truly care about these people and their lives, all their flaws, their compromises, and their bravery on more than one kind of battlefield. Under a Rainbow Flag is a fitting tribute to an era that – while we may be grateful has passed for the most part – deserves remembrance for the kind of remarkable people it forged.

Rating: ★★★

Under a Rainbow Flag continues through April 21st at The Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2:30pm.  Tickets are $10-$25, and are available by phone (773-250-3112) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

David Besky, (yra Anderson and Nick Stockwell in Under A Rainbow Flag, presented by Pride Films and Plays.

Photos by David Zak 




Nick Stockwell (Gibbs), Sam Button-Harrison (Phillips), Kyrie Anderson (Donna), Jordan Phelps (Stefano), James Nedrud (Russell), Kevin Webb (Martin), David Besky (Colonel), Luis Herrera (Bender), Donterrio Johnson (Owens), Bobby Arnold (Jacobs)

behind the scenes

David Zak (director, photographer), Tracy Strimple (choreography), Ryan Flynn (asst. director), Jessica Forella (production stage manager), Garvin Jellison (lighting), John Nasca (costumes), Robert Ollis (music director, conductor, keyboard), R&D Choreography (violence design), Alexander St. John (sound design), Ashley Ann Woods (set design)

Kyrie Anderson and Nick Stockwell in Under A Rainbow Flag, presented by Pride films and Plays

Nick Stockwell and Sam Button-Harrison in Under A Rainbow Flag by Pride Films and Plays.


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Category: 2013 Reviews, Clint May, Musical, New Work, Pride Films and Plays, World Premier

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