Kristine Bendul, Colin Bradbury, Alexander Brady, Todd Burnsed, Jeremy Cox, Matthew Dibble, Carolyn Doherty, Amanda Edge, Holley Farmer, Cody Green, Heather Hamilton, Laurie Kanyok, Laura Mead, Meredith Miles, Marielys Molina, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Rika Okamoto, Eric Otto, Justin Peck, Karine Plantadit, Joel Prouty, Keith Roberts, John Selya, Ron Todorowski, Ashley Tuttle
directed and choreographed by
There’s plenty of passion on-stage in Come Fly Away, Twyla Tharp’s latest jukebox dance musical, now playing at the Marquis Theatre in Times Square. A return to form for Tharp, whose most recent Bob Dylan-themed effort, The Times They Are A-Changin’, was less than brilliant, this most recent show uses songs made popular by Frank Sinatra to invoke a hot frenzy of bodies in motion sparring and swinging in the throes of love on one particularly balmy night in a Rat Pack-era night club.
Unlike Dylan and Billy Joel, the inspiration for Tharp’s Movin’ Out, Sinatra wrote none of his own songs, opting instead to add his signature aesthetic to preexisting material, leaving his indelible mark on material written for him but also reinterpreting standards. In using him as the inspiration of her new show, Tharp frees herself from a slavish sense of devotion to her source material, allowing herself the freedom to explore the ethos of Sinatra rather than the ego.
There’s no central songwriter to appease, just a legendary voice, and Tharp’s approach to his towering presence is to wisely use his recorded voice along with a live orchestra and a female vocalist (the silky-voiced Hilary Gardner on the night I was in attendance), giving this new show simultaneously a sense of immediacy and a quality of reverence to its godlike inspiration. Though at times one wishes Sinatra’s voice carried more powerfully across the footlights in terms of volume (somehow the orchestra still seems to overpower his pre-recorded vocals), it’s the dancers on display who make the most impact.
Tharp has assembled a top-notch doubled cast. I had the chance to see the evening cast, but, except for one cast member, there’s an entirely separate cast for matinee performances. Though there’s not much plot to speak of (besides for some intimations of on-again-off-again romances), these dancers manage to excite an audience’s imagination by acting with their bodies rather than falling back on theatre’s ususal reliance on language.
Standouts include Karine Plantadit as fiery Kate – dancing with poise, precision, and personality – as well as macho John Selya as Sid, but each of the principal dancers has his or her moment to shine somewhere along the way. Charlie Neshyba-Hodges’s acrobatics impress in the role of Marty, with Alexander Brady presiding over the nightclub as Vico, the ringleader of the evening.
With syncopated concision, Tharp uses themes of boxing, jazz, and classical dance to portray mutual attraction and repulsion with a balletic ease. Alternating between the throes of passion and the thrown-away solitude of loneliness, Tharp’s is a rich, plotless modern American ballet in the praise of longing.
At one moment we’re in thrall of her senusous take on Summer Wind. The next, we’re hit with the angular, jagged rhythms of That’s Life. If the production as a whole occasionally feels too well-constructed in its role as a dance-infused comment on Sinatra’s swinging ouevre (think mirror balls and cocktail glasses), there’s a sensuousness and a genuine energy on display that reaffirm’s Tharp’s choice to forego story in favor of passion. That’s how Frankie would’ve liked it. He chose the songs in his discography because of their lyrical potency. His voice says it all. Here, the dancers’ body language seems at all moments infused by his style.