Come Fly Away: Live review
The cover of the playbill for Come Fly Away, Twyla Tharp’s all-dance show to Sinatra songs at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway, shows Holley Farmer and John Selya hotly embracing on the brim of a hat worn by the storied singer, his ol’ blue eyes cast upward in question. During the show’s final number, “New York, New York,” the starry backdrop coalesces to describe the shape of Frank. Again, he’s a giant, and now not even human—we see a constellation representing a hero, like Orion or Perseus.
Having read Charles Isherwood and Alastair Macaulay’s tête-à-tête about the show in March, I was curious to see where I fell between their opinions. While the former’s observations about viable choices for a choreographer in the context of a Broadway investment are probably true and certainly informed, I agree with Macaulay that entertainment and subtlety need not be assumed opposites. Furthermore, the entire evening is so aggressively normative, hetero- and otherwise, that it flies past predictability and into stasis. A crotch-splaying lift or slapped ass may not befall any female character more than six times (although “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” certainly pushes it), but even after two, Tharp’s point is made, and the sexual dynamics of the bar in which Come Fly Away is set are clear.
The situation would be different were this a period piece, and at first it seems it might be: James Youmans’s décor is polished nickel Art Deco in front of the (excellent) musicians’ bandstand (led by Russ Kassoff), and Katherine Roth’s costumes have a bygone propriety, especially the mens’ shiny jackets, fedoras, and polished black Oxfords. We could be watching a dance version of one of Mad Men’s nightclub scenes, and thus the misogyny would be some kind of trend-following statement, but then what of Selya’s breakdancing and the incongruous appearance of stuttering moves cribbed from David “Elsewhere” Bernal?
The dancers are generally superb, although the men are too indulgent with squeezing out just one more turn, and the womens’ arms too often go slack and scarecrow. Especially beautiful are Tharp regulars Keith Roberts (Hank) and Matthew Stockwell Dibble (Chanos), Mark Myars (Marty), and former Merce Cunningham company member Farmer (Babe), whose facial expressions are the most natural and watchable. I found myself avoiding Marielys Molina as Kate—her feral teeth-gnashing became exhausting. (Speaking of: Why did so many men mime open-mouthed gum-chewing throughout? It was Jersey Shore dressed like Jersey Boys.)
“Nice ’n’ Easy” expands upon its lyrics by showing Meredith Miles—not so nice and way too easy—competing for attention with the more demure Betsy (Laura Mead) and losing, but not long into Act II all character differentiation is lost in a horny miasma at last call. The ladies become tramps in heat, begging the men to rip their shirts off (which they do, repeatedly); two lez out in a dark corner in bras and high-cut trunks. I enjoy listening to Sinatra, but a desperate swingers’ club is not what his tunes bring to mind. Strangely enough, once soaked in sweat, nearly naked and passing out, the cast slips into elegant wear for a final ballroom scene to “My Way.” Appearances can and should be kept up, it seems.
If the giant is looking down on Come Fly Away, one wonders what he thinks of it.