Come Fly Away: A New Musical
A national touring production admirably brings together the multifaceted talents of choreographer Twyla Tharp and the sterling vocals of Frank Sinatra in a sparkling combination. Although Tharp has dabbled before with the musical canon of others (Billy Joel with apparent success and Bob Dylan with sad results), Tharp has thrown herself headlong into the vibrancy of Sinatra’s catalog.
Southern California was the recent beneficiary of this production, with performances at the Pantages Theatre in LA and the Civic Theatre in San Diego. This is undoubtedly the only way to hear Sinatra accompanied by a solid band, which is sufficient cause for celebration. Conductor/pianist Rob Cookman leads his 13 piece band with aplomb, adhering respectfully to the classic arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones, Don Costa and others. These brilliant arrangers brought Sinatra’s vocal stylings to life, and secured their place in musical history.
Tharp has gathered a troupe of lithe dancers to interpret the songs. Standout performers include Christopher Vo, Anthony Burrell and Ashley Blair Fitzgerald. No doubt in an effort to bring a sense of musical structure to the brisk 80 minute show, the dancers are given character names in the Playbill program, but since not a word is spoken onstage, the issue is rather moot.
The set is a classic nightclub setting, perhaps the Rainbow Room. The band is arrayed against the far wall, with a bar and nickel sized tables arrayed at the edges. The dancers move back and forth among couples, the ladies alluring and often taunting. The men try to capture their attention and affection via dancing prowess. But any effort at a storyline is rather inconsequential.
The blues and ballad numbers (“Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” “One For My Baby”) set the stage for the slower and more sensuous dance movements. The full throated songs (“That’s Life,” “Fly Me to the Moon”) let the band unleash their prowess, with the brass in full effect.
As the action progresses, the dancing gets steamier. At one point it looks like a possible Victoria’s Secret production, which is not a bad thing. “Making Whopee” is assayed twice, indeed. Of the several instrumental numbers, Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” is notable. While not in Sinatra’s canon (obviously), the tune is from Brubeck’s 1959 album Time Out and features the enigmatic quintuple (5/4) time. This gives drummer Paul Ringenbach a chance to shine.
As classic artists like Sinatra continue to recede further into the past, it is notable productions such as Come Fly Away which keep the legacy alive for succeeding generations.