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Come Fly Away

They Did It His Way in Many Ways

Concept and book by Twyla Tharp, vocals by Frank Sinatra
Marquis Theatre, New York City, N.Y.,
Friday, September 3, 2010, (Row G, middle stalls)
Directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp

What Twyla Tharp did with Billy Joel in Moving Out, she tried to capture with Frank Sinatra songs (and Sinatra himself singing, via tape, with a live band). This production, though, does not even try to find a narrative through the songs. Rather, the plot is a night at a nightclub as various people couple and uncouple and recouple or newly couple. All of that is just an excuse to show off great dancing to great tunes sung by a great singer (and a pretty darn good band, too).

Watching the various dancing styles reminded me of the Royal Ballet’s Elite Syncopations, complete with a live band on stage (ragtime for Syncopations, swinging jazz for Fly Away). However, in Come Fly Away, the characters were more distinct, and so were their dancing styles and skills. Royal Ballet–trained Matthew Stockwell Dibble as Chanos lost his love, Babe (Holley Farmer with a theater and opera background) to the slick Sid, danced by the American Ballet–trained John Selya. Meanwhile, the Alvin Ailey–trained Karine Plantadit’s Kate had an on-again-off-again fling (literally) with the temperamental Hank (Keith Roberts, another American Ballet alum). Comic relief was provided by the impoverished, tentative lovers, Betsy (Laura Mead, Julliard graduate) and Marty (Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, a product of the acrobatic West Coast dance style).

The choreography seamlessly melded from classic leaps and pirouettes to thrown bodies and break-dance twirls. You had pas de deuxs reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet and dancers-become-projectiles that elicited Cirque du Soleil “did they really do that?” gasps in the audience. Aside from the principals, even individuals in the ensemble demanded riveting attention.

That was my only problem watching this production: too much to rivet my attention on. Do I watch this couple or that couple or the two women in the back? Do I watch her over there or him back there or those two by the bar? With rare exceptions of a couple of solo dances and a couple of pas de deuxs, this over-abundance of character-driven movement never let up through the entire presentation. And at the end, to the tune of “My Way,” it all was happening at the same time: Everybody dancing with a variety of partners, all doing their own particular—and brilliant—choreography.

While a bit disconcertingly overbearing for the simple-minded such as me, this choreography cornucopia had both artistic and commercial merit. Artistically, it mirrored real life in a New York City nightclub, where all the patrons are moving to their own rhythms, their own passions, their own desires, their own ways, if you will. Commercially, it meant that audiences would need to see this production a minimum of seven times to see the whole show just once.

Eric Minton
September 5, 2010

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