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Chicago by John Olson

Come Fly Away
Bank of America Theatre

Also see John's review of Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting

Come Fly With me

Twyla's Tharp dance revue set to songs recorded by Frank Sinatra has been slimmed down for the road from two acts to one—at about 75 intermissionless minutes. As much fun as this is, that length seems about right. It still leaves time for 27 numbers from the Great American Songbook, with Sinatra's vocals played back from recordings to the accompaniment of a sensational big band live on stage. Tharp has fashioned a story of sorts from the Sinatra classics, concerning one night in an elegant New York nightclub and the night's impact on four couples. Waiter and waitress Marty and Betsy (danced by Ron Todorowski and Mallauri Esquibel on opening night) prepare the club as the band plays Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," and the other couples arrive for the evening's revelry. Sinatra sings "Luck Be a Lady," underscoring the revelers' hopes for luck in love and lust over the next several hours.

It's possible Come Fly Away is billed as a musical, rather than the ballet it is, to make it more commercial. It's a fair enough tactic as Tharp has created a wholly accessible piece that combines balletic moves with swing and other more popular forms of dance, all set to the familiar songs popularized by Sinatra, and presented in numbers of 3-5 minutes each, suitable for the shortest of attention spans. The mini-stories within the nightclub are courtship rituals recognizable enough for anyone who's ever spent an evening in such a place, and they allow opportunity for dance that is alternately sexy and sensual, comic and sometimes physically astonishing. There are winners and losers—even a song for the losers ("Here's to the Losers"). By closing time, heralded by "One for My Baby (and One for the Road)," they're all resolved in some fashion or other.

The production design suggests an elegant club that could be of any era, not just the postwar period of the songs. James Youmans' set is a railing setting apart the bandstand, red velvet curtain, a see-through bar of metal shelving and some cocktail tables. The costumes by Katherine Roth combine looks both classic (porkpie hat and business suits for the men, a blazing red gown for the sought-after Babe) and contemporary. Donald Holder's lighting washes the set in various shades of blue that suggest the nighttime.

The piece is performed by a stunningly sexy and accomplished cast that rotates among performances. The opening night leads included Tharp regular John Selya (of her Movin' Out, Matthew Stockwell Dibble, Ron Todorowski, Miles, and Marielys Molina from the Broadway company, as well as Mallauri Esquibel, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald and Anthony Burrell. Stephen Hanna, Ramona Kelly and Christopher Vo are also listed in the program as lead performers.

Come Fly Away is the sort of genre-bending piece that can serve as a point of entry into ballet and modern dance for those more accustomed to musical theatre. It works on multiple levels: as a chance to listen to classic American songs and hear their lyrics through Sinatra's crisp diction and backed up by Rob Cookman's 13-piece swing band, a journey into a romanticized vision of nightlife and night people and an exhibition of Tharp's eclectic collection of dance styles. It's a heady and sexy journey through one evening at a nightclub from dusk 'til dawn boiled to a brisk 80 minutes.

Come Fly Away will play the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago, through January 22, 2012. For ticket information visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.comeflyaway.com/.


Photo: Joan Marcus

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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