Come Fly Away
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 31, 2010
Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars
Bart Howard's words are as good as any to conjure the euphoric, elating spirit of Twyla Tharp's newest contribution to Broadway. Come Fly Away invites its audience to do just that, and then delivers: it's a joyous, beauteous, magic-carpet ride of a musical, celebrating the rhythms of love and the human body. If spring on Jupiter is anything like this, I want to go there for my next vacation.
The concept of Come Fly Away is simple. Tharp marries 32 Frank Sinatra songs, most of them what we'd call standards, to thrilling choreography performed by 15 astonishing dancers. There's a unifying principle more than a storyline underneath, about coupling and decoupling—as the evening progresses, pairings shift and sometimes tensions mount. But everybody ends up correctly matched up for the grand finale. What matters here is how these couples say "I love you" and "I want you"—in dance moves that are graceful and kinetic and packed with raw, potent passion.
Three of the dancers dominate the proceedings through sheer force of personality, not to mention talent (note that there is a different roster of dancers at matinee performances). The first of these that we meet is Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, as Marty, the young bartender at the swank supper club where Come Fly Away unfolds. Neshyba-Hodges is fleet and funny and oh-so-light on his feet; when he tries to woo Laura Mead (as Betsy), he is at first hilariously tentative and awkward, stumbling over his feet and flinging her into positions that no dance partner ever sought out for herself. He reminded me of Charlie Chaplin in his comic inventiveness and grace. Neshyba-Hodges and Mead do two delightful duets in Act I, "Let's Fall in Love" and "You Make Me Feel So Young."
The star diva, Karine Plantadit as a roiled-up dynamo named Kate, captures our attention next. Plantadit, a veteran of Tharp's first musical Movin' Out, is a high-octane, long-legged wonder, exuding charisma, danger, and sex appeal in equal measures. She doesn't move, she sizzles. Partnering her, when she isn't flirting with the male chorus, is Keith Roberts as Hank, a possessive boyfriend trying to reel in his flighty lover. They have four important duets, "Summer Wind," "Just Friends, " "One for My Baby," and, my favorite, "That's Life." Hot stuff, always.
John Selya, whom fans will remember as the original Eddie in Movin' Out, makes a brief and memorable entrance down a staircase early in Come Fly Away, and then emerges to dominate much of Act One and Act Two as Sid, a guy who is dealing with getting a little bit older and maybe having to work just that much harder to hold onto a beautiful woman, Babe (Holley Farmer). Selya is a marvel, my favorite dancer in this show without a doubt. Leading the male chorus in "I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die," doing a sexy and acrobatic pas-de-deux with Farmer to "Teach Me Tonight," and then indulging in trademark breakdance moves in a too-brief challenge duet with Alexander Brady ("Air Mail Special"), Selya is riveting, compelling, and thrillingly watchable. His energy is palpable, both elevating and liberating.
Matthew Stockwell Dibble and Rika Okamoto do exquisite turns as Chanos and Slim, a fourth couple in the story's background. Six remarkable dancers complete the ensemble, backing up the main couples in varying configurations and styles: Todd Burnsed, Carolyn Doherty, Heather Hamilton, Meredith Miles, Eric Michael Otto, and Justin Peck. There's not a weak link in this company; dancing on Broadway should always be this terrific, but seldom is.
The music, by the likes of Gershwin, Rodgers, Arlen, Styne, and Berlin, is played with pizzazz by a 19-piece on-stage orchestra led by Russ Kassoff. It sounds great, and it is ingeniously blended with Sinatra's original vocals and occasional live vocals by Hilary Gardner as well (all a la Natalie Cole's duet with her late father); Peter McBoyle deserves special kudos for the seamlessness of the sound design. The setting, by James Youmans, is posh and elegant and leaves the dancers plenty of room to move; ditto costumes by Katherine Roth.
Tharp's choreography always feels tailor-made for the bodies that perform it. So the use of Sinatra's signature song "My Way" as a wrap-up to the show, featuring all of the featured dancers doing their own distinctive moves in a simultaneous celebration of romance and individuality is appropriate and dazzlingly exciting. She follows this with another coup: a finale, to "New York, New York" that features, among other treats, Selya doing a high-kick cakewalk while holding Farmer aloft. Come Fly Away builds to this spectacular finish and leaves the audience to exit as though on air.