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Come Fly Away Takes to the Broadway Stratosphere

May 10, 2010 - by Linda Tagliaferro
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If you love dazzling choreography (laced with acrobatic highlights), and you’re a Frank Sinatra fan to boot, Come Fly Away is a must-see. Director/choreographer Twyla Tharp combines a nightclub setting with a 1940s vibe, the smooth tones of Ol’ Blue Eyes, and a live big band to depict the eternal dance of boy-meets-girl, spun out in a kaleidoscope of tantalizing movement.  

The show, in fact, unfolds like an ultra-sophisticated episode of Dancing With the Stars on steroids. Employing bold, sensual and poignant moments -- and a generous helping of kinetic humor -- Tharp tells the story of four couples who flirt, romance and sometimes break up, all to the beat of immortal Sinatra songs like “Witchcraft,” “Come Fly With Me,” “My Way” and “New York, New York.”

Backed by a stunning collection live on-stage musicians (conducted by Russ Kassoff, who also plays the piano), Sinatra’s voice soars through the loudspeakers, enticing the dancers into any number of Tharpian choreographic vignettes. At times, a live female vocalist (either Hilary Gardner or Rosena M. Hill, depending on the performance) blends her voice with that of the Chairman of the Board as he croons his ever-popular songs.

John Selya, who was nominated for a Tony Award in Tharp’s 2002 triumph, Movin’ Out, now dances in the role of Sid, a smooth operator who is entranced by Babe (Holley Farmer), a sleekly alluring redhead wrapped in deep blue silk.

Selya says that dancing to the sounds of Sinatra is inspiring. “He sets the tone and the tempo and the vocal color with these songs. When I hear the first measures...I’m absorbed into the dance.”

Having worked with Tharp for over 20 years, Selya appreciates both her energy and encouragement. “She’s always challenging you to improve your show and encouraging you to keep digging deeper and deeper to find new things and not let the character or the piece get stale,” he says.

Certainly, no one could accuse this show of being stale or staid. Emotions run high and are freely expressed. “As individuals and couples, [the dancers] run the gamut from happy-go-lucky to depressive to destructive to seductive,” observes Selya. “I think every dance section is emotionally charged—but always with a different emotion.”

On the physical end, there are gravity-defying leaps, breathtaking slides and supremely sensual moves. The skilled male dancers hoist their lithe female counterparts into the air and balance them firmly on their shoulders. When Marty, a waiter played by Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, falls for wholesome, innocent Betsy (Laura Mead), he finds himself literally head-over-heels in love, careening into a perfect cartwheel over a small table to impress her, while Sinatra’s version of “You Make Me Feel So Young” plays aptly in the background.  

Karine Plantadit, in the role of Kate, masterfully executes an intense Apache-esque love dance with Hank (Keith Roberts). To jaw-dropping effect, the Camaroon-born Plantadit unleashes her steamy, ferocious side in this raw, aggressive pas de deux.

Overall, Tharp proves both astute and eclectic in her casting. Rika Okamoto, who plays Slim, spent seven years with the Martha Graham Dance Company; Farmer spent several years traveling the globe with Merce Cunningham Dance Company; and Pantadit not only soloed with the Ailey company, but came to Come Fly Away with a musical theatre pedigree, including roles in The Lion King and Saturday Night Fever.   

Still, ballet training and a deep respect for Tharp’s methods remain the most common denominator for the dancers of Come Fly Away, which explains the passion they project throughout the production. “It’s a great show to perform in. It is physically demanding, but at the end, you feel like you’ve given everything you have and it’s a very pleasant kind of exhaustion,” summarizes Selya, adding, “It’s a show that very rarely comes along on Broadway, where you get to dance your heart out.”

Come Fly Away is currently playing at the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway (45th St.). For reservations, call 212-307-4100 or click here.

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