I’ll admit I have a bit of an affinity for the old jazz crooners. The songs of Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Bobby Darin and of course Frank Sinatra are regular fixtures on my iPod playlists. Songs like “My Way” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” feature prominently in my shower concert sets, as my condo neighbors will undoubtedly attest.
The brassy big band arrangements of Frank Sinatra’s songs have the uncanny ability to make me feel nostalgic for an era in which I never even lived. That’s why I was interested in seeing Come Fly Away despite the fact that I’m not usually a fan of jukebox musicals or tribute shows.
It’s appropriate that the show is staged at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, home of the National Ballet of Canada. Conceived, choreographed and directed by Tony Award-winning choreographer Twyla Tharp, Come Fly Away is essentially a jazz ballet piece.
While it’s billed as “a new musical,” the emphasis of the show is predominantly on dance; not particularly surprising given Tharp’s remarkably high pedigree in the world of dance; she has created works for some of the world’s preeminent ballet companies including American Ballet Theatre, the New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.
Those of you who saw Movin’ Out featuring the music of Billy Joel will be familiar with the concept of the Twyla Tharp “dance-ical” hybrid show but Come Fly Away seems to be a real labour of love for Tharp, she knew Sinatra personally and has choreographed dances to his songs throughout her illustrious career.
Sinatra’s vocals from the original master recordings are featured in the show in a clever reverse-karaoke performance where his pre-recorded vocals are accompanied by the live backing of a 14-piece orchestra. The result is stunning; a score that sounds immediate, fresh and vibrant while at the same time feeling very familiar.
The show features some of Sinatra’s most recognizable hits including “Luck Be a Lady,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” and “New York, New York.” The dancers in the cast play characters who meet, mingle, couple and de-couple throughout the course of the night at a jazz club in a series of dance vignettes.
While I do enjoy classical ballet I love jazz ballet. I find it more free form and expressive because it’s not as burdened by the rigid structures of the classical form. Indeed the dancers execute Tharp’s choreography with an energy and panache that sometimes borders on reckless abandon. It’s often thrilling to watch as they throw themselves and each other across the stage.
While Tharp’s choreography can occasionally veer toward the tawdry and I always find it goofy when dancers mime out actions described in song lyrics, in general, the show sizzles with an energy and unabashed sexiness that draws you in and excites you.
The show really is an ensemble piece although certain performances stand out for me. The tall, statuesque Meredith Miles (Babe) dances with beautiful lines and gorgeous extensions. Ron Todorowski and Mallauri Esquibel are instantly likeable and exude a quirky charm as the comedic characters Marty and Betsy.
My friend and show-going buddy Rudy really enjoyed the show saying that it reminded him of watching an extended episode of Dancing With the Stars.
Coincidentally, earlier that evening I spotted the cast of So You Think You Can Dance Canada at the show. Dance is certainly undergoing a popular resurgence largely because of these types of TV programs.
I like the fact that this show makes dance really accessible and if you’re a fan of programs like So You Think You Can Dance you owe it to yourself to see Come Fly Away.
Also, it goes without saying that if you’re a fan of Frank Sinatra you should see the show if only to hear his music come alive so vividly. One has to think that Old Blue Eyes himself would be proud of a show that so beautifully pays tribute to his legacy.
- Dancap Productions Inc. presents
- COME FLY AWAY
- Conceived, Choreographed and Directed by Twyla Tharp
- Vocals by Frank Sinatra
- Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts,
- 145 Queen Street West Toronto, ON M5H 4G1
- August 16 – 28, 2011
- Tuesday – Saturday @ 7:30pm, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday @ 2pm
- 80 minutes, no intermission
- Ticket prices range from $42 – $135; Front Orchestra Premium seating is also available, and can be purchased at www.DancapTickets.com or by calling 416.644.3665 or toll-free 1.866.950.7469
- For groups of twelve or more, call 416.644.3666 or toll free at 1.866.960.7469
- Official show site: www.comeflyaway.com.
Original Broadway cast. Photo by Joan Marcus.