Monday, April 5, 2010

Through Frank, Tharply

Come Fly Away

A musical conceived and directed by Twyla Tharp

Starring Matthew Dibble, Holley Farmer, Hilary Gardner, Laura Mead, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Rika Okamoto, Karine Plantadit, Keith Roberts, John Selya, Todd Burnsed, Carolyn Doherty, Heather Hamilton, Meredith Miles, Eric Otto, Justin Peck

Performances began March 1, 2010

Marquis Theatre

1535 Broadway

The dazzling dancing of Come Fly Away is Twyla Tharp’s latest dialogue-less and story-less Broadway show’s raison d’etre. Her last hit, Movin’ Out, had a narrative thread courtesy of Billy Joel’s sturdy songs. (Let’s forget about her stillborn Bob Dylan disaster, The Times They Are A-Changin’, entirely.)

Come Fly Away comprises 35 tunes, largely sung from beyond by Sinatra with the backing tracks performed by a crack band led by Russ Kassoff. Tharp has taken these songs and turned them into a jukebox musical of sorts, whose flimsy conceit is that in a nightclub where the swinging big band pounds out tune after tune, several couples get together, fight, reconcile, and wrap things up with a Sinatra tribute. Throughout, Tharp demonstrates her unique choreographic technique, even if, after 90 minutes (two 45-minute halves with an intermission), there is much repetition. But if anyone can spin wheels spectacularly, it’s Tharp. Come Fly Away gives us everything: supreme solos, daring duets, terrific trios, quality quartets and more. The variedness of the performances help it from turning stale, even when some moves—the women spreading their legs for the audience when they are picked up by the men most notably—are played out by the time the show ends.

But her dancers are wondrous. John Selye, a Tharp veteran from Movin’ Out, leads the gifted men with sheer athleticism and grace. His muscular solo turn, “September of My Years,” is the show’s highlight. Karine Plantadit might be too hammy and self-satisfied (unaccountably, she’s the lone cast member to speak onstage), but she has a pair of lithe legs that go on forever: when her male partners toss her like a rag doll during the intricately choreographed “Fly Me to the Moon.” Laura Mead and Charlie Neshyba-Hodges have the most combustible chemistry, helped by his ability to combine dazzlingly athletic moves with split-second comic timing.

Even if Come Fly Away repeats its signature moves once too often, Tharp’s celebration of Sinatra and dance is well nigh irresistible.

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