Powder Puff Pilots

a musical in two acts

Book by Marian Partee, Lyrics by Noelle Donfeld, Music by Cindy O’Connor


Awestruck, I’m at one with the sky
As the engines croon their strange lullaby
And I can almost touch heaven…

In August 1929, Will Rogers hosts the first Women’s National Air Race, which he calls “The Powder Puff Derby.” In this eight-day race from Santa Monica to Cleveland, fourteen daring women strive to be the fastest female pilot in the country. These aviation pioneers are thrilled by flight but also eager to prove that women can achieve equality with their male counterparts.

Exuberant Marvel Crosson participates for the pure joy of flight. Strong-minded Louise Thaden wants to maintain her first place status. Foul-mouthed, cigar-smoking, hard-drinking heiress Pancho Barnes loves a good adventure. Surprisingly insecure Amelia Earhart wants to prove that she is worthy of her fame.

The pilots fly their flimsy crafts despite hostile weather, mechanical problems, blatant chauvinism, and threats of sabotage. When a beloved aviatrix dies in the race, the women must decide whether they will continue risking their lives for the sport they love.

The musical was developed in association with New Musicals Inc. and UC Irvine. NMI and UCI both presented staged readings of the show. High Tech Charter High School in Van Nuys, CA presented a workshop production.

Cast: 14 W, 5 M
Running time: 2 hrs, 15 min with intermission

Marian and Cindy performed for the pilots in the 2019 women’s air race inspired by the Powder Puff Derby of 1929.
The cast of the staged reading at UC Irvine.