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A scene from "Come Fly Away" (Joan Marcus)
A scene from "Come Fly Away" (Joan Marcus)

Review

A tribute to Sinatra that's got moves, but not brains Add to ...

Come Fly Away

  • Dancap Productions
  • Choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp
  • At the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto on Thursday

When the curtain came down on Twyla Tharp’s full-length Broadway dance show Come Fly Away, a audience member commented, “That was fantastic. One of the best shows ever!” On the other hand, I was thinking that the 80 minutes of choreography was unbelievably shallow. Such is the divide between popular and critical appreciation.

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The narrative line is told strictly through movement, mostly duets, as conceived, choreographed and directed by Tharp. The setting is a New York nightclub, and the focus is on the amorous adventures of four couples, danced to a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra songs.

Girlfriends Kate (Laurie Kanyok) and Slim (Marielys Molina) arrive at the nightclub in search of a good time. Kate ends up in a turbulent relationship with Hank (Cody Green), and the two battle for control and one-upmanship.

Babe (Meredith Miles) arrives with escort Chanos (Matthew Stockwell Dibble), but ditches him in favour of Sid (John Selya). Slim and Chanos ultimately get together because they are partnerless.

The fourth couple is the shy and awkward Marty (Ron Todorowski) and Betsy (Mallauri Esquibel). Marty, the waiter, gets considerable coaching from veteran womanizer Sid in how to treat women.

There are also three secondary ensemble couples who are there to complicate the flirting, and add background dance that underwrites the emotions of the four main pairings.

First, let’s look at Come Fly Away from a lay point of view. The dancers, several from the original Broadway cast, are very talented and very good-looking. They sail easily through Tharp’s showy tricks and dangerous lifts.

The choreography is mostly ballet-based jazz dance, and is very, very sexy, at times even steamy. There are a lot of bumps, humps and grinds – always of interest, prurient or otherwise. As the evening wears on, the costumes get skimpier.

For people who enjoy Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, Tharp’s choreography will be seem skilfully arranged to make the dancers look good.

And how can anyone resist the carefully chosen vintage Sinatra performances? His vocals are recorded, but there is a hot 14-member band playing along live.

In other words, what’s not to like about Come Fly Away, either from what you see or what you hear?

Well, for one, the show is smoke and mirrors. The flash and dash can’t hide weak, repetitious choreography. The stretched leg, pointed foot, and high kick repeat endlessly. At times, the duets seem amazingly similar. The six secondary dancers also become a distraction over time.

The characters are poorly formed, and we never get any real sense of who they are as people. Marty and Betsy come closest, but it is easier to show shy and awkward than it is to portray more complicated personalities.

There is also the matter of exits and entrances. People disappear for no reason, only to mysteriously reappear. As for Katherine Roth’s costumes, they enter into diminishing returns as the night goes on.

One can only presume the clothes are a metaphor – the skimpier they get (at one point down to underwear), the more aroused the person, the more hot and heavy the couple. Then in the final scene, a grand ball set to My Way, the couples are inexplicably elegant, all pretense of character set aside.

There are some standout numbers. Hank and Kate’s duet, performed to That’s Life, is a bruiser. Hank hurls Kate around in punchy partnering that is pure vitriol in their clash of wills.

The song I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die gives the four male leads a chance to show off their dance tricks as they crisscross the floor with difficult jumps and spins.

Hollow, maybe, but Come Fly Away does have the razzle-dazzle to keep the masses happy.

Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away continues at the Four Seasons Centre until Aug. 28.

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