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A CurtainUp Review
Come Fly Away

  With Additional Thoughts by Elyse Sommer

I've got you under my skin.
I’ve got you deep in the heart of me.
So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me.
I’ve got you under my skin.

— (as sung by vocalist Hilary Gardner and danced to by Alexander Brady (Vico) and company
Come Fly Away
Holley Farmer and John Selia
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Apparently (and lucky for us) choreographer Twyla Tharp can't seem to get enough of Ol' Blue Eyes. Although her passion for the crooning of the now legendary Frank Sinatra has already been expressed in such swingin' ballets as Once More Frank (1976), Nine Sinatra Songs (1982) and Sinatra Suite (1984,) Tharp has created a new, romantically bracing full-evening homage entitled Come Fly Away (with no apologies to Sinatra's hit 1958 album Come Fly With Me).

Credit also must go to the Sinatra legacy. Come Fly Away literally takes flight not only with many of the songs that Sinatra sang from the great American songbook, but also soars thanks to Tharp and her extraordinary company of 17 dancers. You won't have to be coaxed to keep your eyes on the stunning-looking, provocatively insinuating Karine Plantadit, a rapacious, man-eating tigress on the prowl.

The incredible John Selya who earned a Tony nomination for his role in Tharp's Movin' Out is back. His charismatic manly grace is exhibited in three numbers two of which partnered by the spit-fiery Holley Farmer. But he is never more memorable than in his solo to "September of My Years. " Charlie Neshyba-Hodges's winningly acrobatic antics provide the show with much of its comedic side. But there are many pleasures that come from the other dancers and the dances. As Tharp has proven, she can embrace a musical icon with verve and veracity as she did in the Broadway hit Movin' Out, with the songs of Billy Joel.

Although a follow-up attempt to revel in her adulation of folk singer Bob Dylan was a disappointment and disappeared quickly, we can all be grateful that the iconic choreographer is back in stride. That Tharp fearlessly incorporates classical, modern, jazz, social, swing and interpretive styles in her own extraordinary way is a given. As you might expect with Come Fly Away, joyful, reckless, sensual, melancholy, and even odd couples unite, part and reunite during the course of an evening. Is that enough? You bet.

Set in a nightclub, Come Fly Away uses the actual Sinatra recordings, enhanced by an on-stage big band. Under the leadership of conductor/pianist Russ Kassoff, the musicians are able to add a fuller texture to the original orchestrations without giving the purists reason to complain. Just know that the Sinatra sound is not distorted or compromised. Two vocals by Hilary Gardner on the bandstand are nicely integrated, notably "I've Got You Under My Skin, " which also allows dancer Selya to own the stage.

What is most satisfying is seeing how the songs serve as catalysts for the dancers all of whom convey an emotional integrity whether they are consigned to making literal or more illusive references to them. Tharp's dance vocabulary and her vision are certainly worlds apart from what we have seen recently in the exercises in ballroom shows such as Burn the Floor. She also pushes her dancers to places that appear to exist beyond the ordinary and predicable. While the displays of Tharp's artistry are present from the beginning, it is in the second half that we see the dancers reach and attain the peak of their terpsichorean powers.

Both the men and the women get ample opportunities to define their dominating and submissive natures. I don't think I'll ever hear "That's Life" again without remembering the rough but taunting exchange between a brutish Keith Roberts and a recklessly compliant Plantadit. Neshyba-Hodges (he's a bartender) and Laura Mead (she's a perky flirt) meet cute at the start of the show and are the best in showing the growth of a relationship from his brilliantly executed foolishness to his drunken wooing ("Yes Sir, That's My Baby") to a lovely partnering that validates their initial attraction for each other ("My Funny Valentine. ")

If many of the lyrics tend to remind us of the deeply personal connection that Sinatra seemed to have between himself and his fans, they also serve as the gateway for Tharp to interpret them her way. I cannot tell you how much or what specifically that Tharp has either borrowed from herself or invented specifically for this show. But one can only be astonished by the clarity of the various relationships. Elegantly costumed by Katherine Ross the dancers swoop and spin, fling and swing, all in the pursuit of love or a reasonable facsimile.

James Youmans' nightclub setting is basically functional, but it is enhanced by Donald Holder's shimmering and star-studded lighting. The set features a raised bandstand, the obligatory rotating prism ball and a touch of neon. Those of us (and I mean my wife) who own every Sinatra album will undoubtedly never hear many of the songs again without a memory of the intoxicating way they were danced. You might take note that there is a complete change of company for the matinee performances.

Come Fly Away Conceived, Choreographed and Directed by Twyla Tharp

Principal Cast: Laura Mead (Betsy), Charlie Neshyba-Hodges (Marty), Alexander Brady (Vico), John Selya (Sid), Karine Plantadit (Kate), Rika Okamoto (Slim), Keith Roberts (Hank), Matthew Stockwell Dibble (Chanos), Holley Farmer (Babe), Hilary Gardner (Featured Vocalist)
Principal Cast: Wednesday and Saturday Matinees: Ashley Tuttle (Betsy), Jeremy Cox (Marty), Alexander Brady (Vico), Cody Green (Sid), Marielys Molina (Kate), Kristine Bendul (Slim), Joel Prouty (Hank), Ron Todorowski (Chanos), Laurie Kanyok (Babe), Rosena M. Hill(Featured Vocalist) Scenic Design: James Youmans 
Costume Design: Katherine Roth 
Lighting Design: Donald Holder 
Sound Design: Peter McBoyle 
Additional Orchestrations & Arrangements: Don Sebesky and Dave Pierce 
Original Music Supervisor: Sam Lutfiyya 
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes including intermission 
Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway 
877 - 250- 2929 
Tickets: $66.50 to $126.50 
Performances: Tuesday – Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM 
Opened 03/25/2010 
Review by Simon Saltzman based on press preview 03/19/2010
Closing 9/05/10
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Moonlight Becomes You /Marty and Betsy
  • Come Fly With Me /Company
  • I've Got the World on a String /Company
  • Let's Fall in Love /Marty and Betsy
  • I've Got You Under My Skin /Vieo and Company
  • Summer Wind /Hank and Kate
  • Fly Me to the Moon /Hank, Kate and Ensemble Men
  • I've Got a Crush On You /Sid and Babe'
  • Body and Soul /Chanos, Sid, Babe and Ensemble
  • It's Alright With Me /Company
  • You Make Me Feel So Young /Marty and Betsy
  • September of My Years/ Sid
  • Witchcraft /Sid. Babe and Ensemble Men
  • Yes Sir, That's My Baby /Chanos and Slim
  • Learnin' the Blues /Hank, Kate, Slim and Ensemble Women
  • That's Life/ Hank and Kate
  • Nice 'n' Easy /Marty, Betsy, Vico and Ensemble Women
  • Makin Whoopee /Marty. Betsy, Slim and Ensemble
  • Jumpin' at the Woodside /Company
Act Two
  • Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night /Company
  • I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die /Sid, Chanos, Hank, Marty and Company
  • Pick Yourself Up /Marty, Betsy, Chanos and Slim
  • Wave /Chanos and Slim
  • Let's Face the Music and Dance /Hank, Kate and Ensemble
  • Teach Me Tonight /Sid and Babe
  • Take Five /Sid, Babe, Marty, Betsy and Ensemble
  • Just Friends/ Hank and Kate
  • Lean Baby /Kate and Ensemble Men
  • Makin' Whoopee (reprise) /Kate, Chanos, Slim, Marty, Betsy and Ensemble
  • One for My Baby /Hank and Kate
  • My Funny Valentine /Marty and Betsy
  • Air Mail Special /Vico and Sid
  • My Way /Company
  • New York, New York /Company
  • All the Way /Company

Additional Thoughts by Elyse Sommer

After seeing Come Fly Away on March 31st I reread my able colleague Simon Saltzman's rave review. Tharp's third Broadway venture didn't blow me away quite as much as it did him, but that's not to make this into a loved it/loathed it readership boosting controversy like the one between the theater and dance critic at The New York Times.

While I loved Tharp's Movin' Out ) and loathed The Times They Are A-Changin' I think Come Fly Away has so much going for it that it's hard not to succumb to its charms and to give Ms. Tharp credit from not repeating the mistakes from the awkward narrative that encumbered rather than enhanced the Dylan musical: The great Sinatra songs, the ingenious melding of Ol' Blue Eyes' vocals with a live onstage band, the spectacularly energetic dancing by the superb dancers.

It is because I'm as much a Sinatra fan from way back as Simon and his wife, that I found it a bit spooky to have this brilliant entertainer's voice as background for some of the frenetic choreographic couplings and uncouplings. For one thing, some of this hyperactive dancing, especially in the first act, is more in keeping with Tharp's athletic style than Sinatra's smooth as silk delivery. While certainly a homage he would have loved I didn't get over missing him until the homage spirit got a hold of me in the second act. Impressive as the live music enhancement is, I also would have been happier if it had been just a little less amplified.

I think Ms. Tharp was wise to rely on the lyrics, the dancer' expressiveness and the unifying nightclub setting to make Come Fly Away as at home in a Broadway theater as at a dance venue (where some of these pieces actually did make their first appearance). However, I do admit that I think the slight yet very much present book element in Movin' Out added enormously to the strength of that show. Still, with musicals like Next to Normal that sing and speak but don't dance there's certainly room for a show with all but a couple of songs by a canned but iconic voice, a mere whisper of a plot and lots and lots of divine dancing.

All dance musicals certainly aren't a strictly new-new thing. Richard Maltby Jr., Chet Walker and Ann Reinking conceived a homage to Bob Fosse back in 1998. With Contact Susan Stroman and John Weidman conceived a hit dance play with a triple plot but all canned music. Matthew Bourne's story ballet Swan Lake proved itself to be quite at home in a musical theater setting, as did Martha Clarke's A Garden of Earthly Delights.

For all his accomplishments as a recording and concert artist and actor, Sinatra never appeared in a Broadway musical. So Come Fly Away is as close as you're going to get to at least hearing him while in a Broadway theater.

Links to reviews of shows mentioned above:
( Movin' Out
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Next to Normal.
Swan Lake
Garden of Earthly Delights
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