Come Fly Away is an enjoyable evening jam-packed with Twyla Tharp’s jazzy mix of ballroom, ballet, and modern dance. The cast of 15 dancers is accompanied by recordings of Frank Sinatra, plus strategic live renditions of songs by Hilary Gardner (including a duet with Sinatra), backed by a band led by Russ Kassoff. If you’re looking for profound moral tales or searing character depictions, you won’t find them here. But you will get no-holds-barred performances by some of the finest technically-trained dancers working on Broadway, many vets from prior Tharp shows. Like Sinatra’s song list, the show’s mood is heavily romantic, but occasionally veers to the resigned, bitter, and hopeful.
The club setting (by James Youmans) essentially doesn’t change for the duration, and yet time flies surprisingly quick. Four lead couples make their entrances down a compact staircase and sketch out their relationships. Karine Plantadit and Keith Roberts are on again/off again, with her voracious appetites and strong-headedness providing the drama, and her wattage ranging from brilliant to nuclear. Roberts is velvety and solid. Holley Farmer and John Selya are still in the fresh, beguiled stage of love. Farmer, late of the Merce Cunningham Company, possesses a brilliant smile and stage presence that continually draw the eye. Selya looks like a really talented everyman, but his heart and work ethic sell his appeal.
Laura Mead is the fresh faced ingenue (a cliche best described with a cliche) who captures the eye of barkeep Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, ironically cast as clumsy, but who has the instincts and grace of a panther. He somehow elongates his relatively short limbs to eternal lengths, and floats like a butterfly. Rika Okamoto and Matthew Dibble reveal the least; I wish we could see more of Dibble, who was with the Royal Ballet, and moves with precision and daring. Okamoto is a vivacious live wire with endless legs. Many of these dancers appeared in Tharp’s Billy Joel tribute, Movin’ Out, and the unsuccessful Dylan vehicle.
The use of Sinatra’s recorded voice will be provocative, but it’s sensible for such an iconic singer as no one could fairly evoke his range of emotion. Gardner’s dusky voice complements, and after a while you kind of forget he’s just on recordings. The band sits upstage and there’s still plenty of room for the dancers to perform. The women wear cocktail dresses and heeled shoes (costumes by Katherine Roth) in the first act. They wear loungier versions of their dresses and soft slippers in act two, and the guys lose their outer clothes as well—an evening out, and what follows. The choreography is primarily ballroom-inspired dancing, with ballet lifts and leggy developpés, although even someone as inventive as Tharp winds up quoting herself given a restricted vocabulary and two-plus hours. I wished for more ensemble work, although that would’ve eroded some of the individuality built up by each pair over the evening. And a final observation: Tharp has chosen and trained her lead dancers to be so “on” that it feels like they never turn it off, leading to mild exhaustion on the audience’s part. Then again, it’s Broadway, and if razzle-dazzle don’t fly here, then never you mind.
Image: Holley Farmer and John Selya in Come Fly Away. Photo by Joan Marcus.