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Jack Anderson

Come Fly Away

"Come Fly Away"
Marquis Theater
Broadway at 46th Street
Conceived, Choreographed and Directed by Twyla Tharp
Opened March 25, 2010
(877) 250-2929 or www.ComeFlyAway.com
Reviewed by Jack Anderson April 1,

"Come Fly Away," Twyla Tharp's latest choreographic excursion into the music of Frank Sinatra, manages to be simultaneously lively and boring.

The liveliness is no surprise. Tharp's creations have always been action-packed. She never runs out of steps. And she always has steps for Sinatra, whose songs she has choreographed since the 1970's. She and Sinatra artistically may be kindred spirits, for they can unite seemingly disparate qualities: both can be smooth and tough, worldly and sentimental.

In "Come Fly Away" Tharp honors Sinatra on a grand scale. The two-act production is set in a nightclub designed by James Youmans, and couples flock there, ready to dance into the wee hours to music by an on-stage band to which Sinatra's voice has been added. And there are songs by a female vocalist (Hilary Gardner at evening performances, including the one I attended; Rosena M. Hill at matinees, which have their own separate dancing cast).

Tharp challenges herself. Here is a musical which is all music and dance, and no dialogue. Nor is there a real plot: people just get together, face the music, and dance. And although these characters are given names in the program (tough-sounding names like Slim, Hank, Chanos, and Babe), they are barely characterized; they are types rather than individuals, and they hold attention solely because of the steps they do. And there are lots of steps.

To mention only a few couples: Keith Roberts and the ever-elegant Karine Plantadit are oh-so-smooth and assured; Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, as an affable waiter, and Laura Mead, as an innocent who has inexplicably wandered into this sophisticated club, are charming and bouncy (sometimes too obviously so); Holley Farmer's red hair lights up the stage, as does her passionate dancing with John Selya. The entire cast looks good and dances well. Yet, as the evening wears on, we don't really care much about them.

Although there are squabbles and reconciliations, they arise out of nowhere and go nowhere. Conceivably, Tharp may have been trying to create an evening-long abstract, or essentially plotless, ballet, without narrative, yet with many emotional shifts. Such works must be extraordinarily hard to choreograph, since with no story to bind events together, all changes of mood can seem merely arbitrary. And so they do here.

One of the few successful plotless full-evening ballets is George Balanchine's "Jewels." But that production has three distinct parts, each with its own principals: some balletgoers even claim that "Jewels" is not a single work, but three one-act ballets habitually programmed together. Each part of "Jewels" is set to a different composer and makes use of a different musical form: a suite by Fauré, a concerto by Stravinsky, a symphony by Tchaikovsky. As a result, monotony never sets in.

But monotony is a major problem of "Come Fly Away:" musical as well as dramatic monotony. Here is a whole evening of pop songs associated with one singer. Great though Sinatra was, it's possible in time to get tired of him, and even though the female vocalist also sings Sinatra tunes, there is insufficient variety.

One reason why Tharp's one-act Sinatra ballets possessed the punch they did was because they were parts of mixed bills. They were surrounded by other works in other styles and (if they were parts of an eclectic repertory) by other choreographers. They looked different from those other ballets because they truly were different. As a result, their theatrical power was great. But here Tharp just gives us Sinatra followed by more Sinatra with diminishing impact. "Come Fly Away" never gets off the ground.

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