Sinatra + Tharp = Sexy Staging in ‘Come Fly Away’

Pay attention, kids. The Chairman of the Board, Old Blue Eyes, the Voice is back and in the house.

The house being the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center, where Frank Sinatra’s music and voice provide a kind of electric muse, a poetic kick in the pants, to the dancers — couples coming together, falling apart and twisting and flying through the air — in “Come Fly Away,” Twyla Tharp’s dance homage and expression of the Sinatra musical essence and persona.

“Come Fly Away” — where a set of four couples never going far from the stage set of the kind of bar where you drown your sorrows and dance to the tune of your troubles, or fly like ecstatic birds to the tune of romance — has Sinatra in full voice, ever present, his great voice and songs bathing the performers with a knowing air.

Tharp, America’s greatest living choreographer, has always had a gift for blending the pop with dance, a fascination not held alone by her but also Mikhail Barishnikov, who worked with her on her first Sinatra effort. “Come Fly Away,”, rooted in “Sinatra Suite” and the earlier “Nine Sinatra,” is leaner, and physically meaner and tougher than the Broadway original. It runs at 80 minutes with no intermission and is a gift if you still can’t get Sinatra’s combination of brass and sass, hitched to rueful romance, out of your head. Some of Sinatra’s finest songs are here—and it’s saying a lot given that he recorded literally thousands of songs.

The hitch, the hook, here is love, all kinds of love, including tough love with a background provided by the genuine article of Sinatra’s recorded love, and a full orchestra, much of it brass, the piano, the mournful sax, the sweet muted horn you haven’t heard very often. The couples in question are all kinds of American lovers—the stormy weather , battling, bruising love of Hank (Anthony Burrell) and flaming-haired Kate (Ashley Blair Fitzgerald), the uneven infuation-style course of Babe (Meredith Miles) and Sid (Stephen Hannah), the All-American sweets of Betsy and Marty (Amy Ruggiero and Ron Todorowski), not to mention the high-flying efforts of Chano (Mattahew Stockwell Dibble) to find love.

Dancing to songs as varied as “Luck Be a Lady,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” the stained-napkin boozy, “Here’s to the Losers,” “One for My Baby,” the defiant “My Way,” “That’s Life” and the exuberant “New York, New York.” In the mode of Sinatra-in-past-midnight-trenchcoat-alone with “Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week, the couples and the ensemble do something awesome. They embody the music, a lot of Sinatra himself, and a little and a lot of all of us. They do it with tremendous gifts of physicality, grace, buoyancy and dazzling acrobatics. They toss each other around like muscular confetti, they meet, they pounce and they battle.

This is also, it should be said, sexy stuff, as love less idealized, the I-love-you-I-hate-you brand expressed in turns that escape one partner and land with another. This is hot stuff. All the couples on stage make this dancing a full-contact body bouncing effort: so much so that it’s a wonder nobody gets engaged during the course of the show. Or divorced.

Dibble can startle you with his high-flying leaps. Tudorowski carries with him a confidence that is equal parts funny and romantic. Miles turns every male dancer on stages to mush with her languid, red-dress moves.

But it’s the romance of Kate and Hank that carry the show and set the pace: theirs is almost a Frank-and-Ava affair. Every time they hook up, mash against each other, you feel the heat emanating from the sleek, slick, muscled moves of Burrell and Fitzgerald’s sassy, defiant attempts to escape and inability to leave, her red mane flying.

In fact, flight in all its definitions is at work here. All the boys and girls, at some point, manage to fly, to appear headed somewhere. They, if not away, still fly, fancy free and all.

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