Review: Come Fly Away

Originally reviewed for

It’s not entirely random that Twyla Tharp would follow her successful Billy Joel “dance musical” (Movin’ Out) and her unsuccessful Bob Dylan show (The Times They Are A-Changing), with another evening-length Broadway dance extravaganza to the music of Frank Sinatra. She’s been choreographing to Sinatra’s music since the late ‘70s, both short dances and evening-length works.

I’d have been happier with a collection of those pieces, with no attempt at connecting them, than sit through the ultimately pointless and boring narrative — about four couples falling in and out of love at a crowded nightclub — of Come Fly Away. I’m not a big fan of Sinatra’s work, so I’m a little surprised that music, not dance, was the most exciting part of the evening for me.

A few of the dances are done to the recorded versions of Frank’s songs that we’re familiar with. But most feature his vocals (or that of a live female singer) with new arrangements played by a crack onstage band. You could close your eyes, and experience the evening as an extraordinary musical celebration of vocal jazz and the Great American Songbook.

I’m not say the dancing isn’t great — it is in fact really, really good. Choreographically, this is as much a tribute to jazz music and jazz dancing in general as it is to Sinatra personally. Tharp quotes and gently parodies the great innovators of jazz dance like Hermes Pan, Katherine Dunham, Jack Cole and Gower Champion, throwing her own modern dance moves into to the mix to create technically dazzling dances, which are performed by an equally stunning company of dancers.

But Come Fly Away is decidedly less than the sum of its parts. By forcing these set pieces into a very loose narrative, she dissipates what power they have on their own. The story is unclear and awkward; there should either be a lot more of it, or much, much less. It’s an impressive evening, but only intermittently rewarding in any way.

For tickets, click here.

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