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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Come Fly Away
Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts

Also see Fred's review of The Tempest

Come Fly Away
Anthony Burrell and Ashley Blair Fitzgerald
Wow: Come Fly Away, making a stop as part of a national tour at Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through June 3rd, is a stunner. Choreographer/director Twyla Tharp has transformed the much longer Broadway version into 80 minutes of passion, athletic virtuosity and, not to be minimized, the still classic vocals of Frank Sinatra.

It is sometimes fierce and sometimes fascinating; the mixture complements the forever moving production. Designer James Youmans (working with Tharp's concept) sets the action in a Manhattan club. Before a proactive contingent of instrumentalists, who are stationed toward the rear of the stage, nine lead performers and a group of ensemble dancers literally stir up many a scene on stage. It is impossible not to feel the heat. Donald Holder's lighting assists an artistic infusion which incorporates a few genres.

"Luck Be a Lady" began the proceedings on opening Tuesday evening (delayed by technical difficulties) at the Bushnell followed by "Let's Fall in Love," with Marty (Christopher Vo) and Betsy (Ramona Kelley). She is put off by his clumsy approach to her. Sid (Stephen Hanna) and fair, graceful Babe (Meredith Miles) play a more lyrical couple on numbers such as "Body and Soul," "Witchcraft" and "Teach Me Tonight." Actress Iona Alfonso, as Slim, is sometimes the other woman.

Let's face it: Anthony Burrell as Hank and Ashley Blair Fitzgerald as Kate create quite a fever pitch pretty much each moment they intermingle. It's a tough relationship which might echo the one Sinatra had with Ava Gardner. As imagined by Tharp and executed by these two young, fit, brave and (yes) positively agitated actors, their dance numbers pulsate with sensory vibrations. Chemistry is obvious and so their many moves, however challenging, are thrilling.

Sinatra sings "Fly Me to the Moon," "That's Life," "One for My Baby" and more as Burrell and Fitzgerald come together, spread apart ... she is tossed, thrown over his shoulder. This is sexy, intense and transfixing. Costumer Katherine Roth outfits Fitzgerald (who weight trains to perform in this show) in revealing attire and, at one point, in very little.

There is nothing random about Come Fly Away. Tharp combines classical, modern, and ballet forms and her dancers are zealous and brave. Sinatra, naturally, lives through original arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Don Costa, and many others. Dave Pierce provides additional orchestrations. Rob Cookman, conductor and keyboard player, leads the band and helps create the feel of a New York City cocktail lounge during the 1940s and '50s.

For the viewer, the treats are multiple. It feels, through these remastered recordings and the presence of a live, brass band, that Sinatra is with us in the hall. Many mini-stories coalesce through Tharp's vision and the dancers' expertise to grant an authentic feeling. The performers are stimulated, clearly motivated and, for those watching, it all becomes quickly intoxicating. Come Fly Away is provocative and striking.

Someone fortunate to sit in orchestra seats close enough to witness the fire Fitzgerald and Burrell generate will catch and hold that wave of excitement. These two are irresistible.

Come Fly Away continues at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford through June 3rd. For tickets, call (860) 987-5900 or visit www.bushnell.org. For more information on the tour, please visit www.comeflyaway.com/.


Photo: Joan Marcus


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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