Twyal Tharp's 'Come Fly Away' breezes through Baltimore
Sometimes, I guess what happens in Vegas shouldn't stay there.
That seems to be the lesson from "Come Fly Away," Twyla Tharp's kinetic tribute to Frank Sinatra, which breezed through Baltimore over the weekend, with four performances at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.
When it bowed on Broadway in 2010, this narrative ballet had two acts and a live singer interacting with the Chairman of the Board's recorded voice. It was met with mixed reviews.
Tharp subsequently revised the show during a Las Vegas run, trimming it to a single, 80-minute act and ditching the extra singer.
The lean result is in the midst of an extensive national tour that will reach the Kennedy Center in mid-April (Baltimoreans perennially miffed that most touring shows play DC first can take a little pleasure in this). Although I did not see the longer, original version, I can't help but feel the slimmer one is better.
The essence of the original concept -- multiple couples arrive at a night club and go through various problems before reaching some sort of understanding -- is still outlined. And because the action is compressed, there is no time for the energy to sag, even in the few moments of relative physical calm.
Tharp's alternately athletic, sexy and witty choreography for this show still divides people, understandably. There is ...
At Friday night's performance, Baltimore area-native Ashley Blair Fitzgerald demonstrated abundant flair as the capricious Kate, partnered by the imposing and impressive Anthony Burrell as Hank.
Matthew Stockwell Dibble, re-creating his Broadway role as the unlucky-at-love Chanos, tore up the joint. Stephen Hanna, as Sid, brought a combination of muscularity and suavity to the proceedings. Christopher Vo offered acrobatic energy as Marty. The rest of the principals and ensemble measured up nicely.
The musical side of things is, for the most part, terrifically successful. There's the brilliant idea of electronically isolating the voice of Sinatra from original recordings and backing it up with a live, very hot band that plays the original arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Billy May and others. I cannot imagine spoiling this effect with any other singer, however talented.
By focusing solely on Sinatra -- in a compelling touch, heard a cappella at the start in "Stardust" -- the show's real raison d'etre is underlined: "Come Fly Away" is, above all, a tribute to one of history's greatest vocal artists. It is, secondarily, a vehicle for the dancing.
I only wish that the song list did not include any items that require piping in strings electronically. The occasional shift from the live-action to prerecorded is jarring. I also wish that Tharp had avoided using "My Way" altogether. It's such a treacly thing, and far out of character with the rest of the songs used here.
I could do without the assault of "New York, New York," too, but it fits the narrative better than "My Way." One song is curiously absent -- "Come Fly With Me," which inspired the show's pre-Broadway title and still haunts the current one.
The band, led from the keyboard by Ron Cookman, is top-notch. Hearing these guys in action conjures up the mythic era of night clubs and sizzling music, when Sinatra ruled the world.PHOTO BY JOAN MARCUS