Friday, April 30, 2010

Bulletin from Broadway No. 6: 'Come Fly Away'

Holley Farmer and John Selya in‭ ‬Come Fly Away.
‭ (‬Photo by Joan Marcus‭)

By Hap Erstein

Eight years ago,‭ ‬Twyla Tharp won the Tony Award for choreography,‭ ‬using the music of Billy Joel for her quirky,‭ ‬alternately graceful and clumsy leaps and lifts in a show called‭ ‬Movin‭’ ‬Out.

The‭ ‬Playbill program for it contained a three-paragraph synopsis of the plot‭ ‬--‭ ‬something about couples drifting apart as the guys went off to the war in Vietnam and then eventually coming home to the difficult readjustment of peacetime.‭ ‬The dance was enjoyable to watch,‭ ‬if gradually rather repetitive,‭ ‬but try as I might,‭ ‬I never really saw that story played out onstage.

Now comes Tharp again with‭ ‬Come Fly Away,‭ ‬set to music popularized by Frank Sinatra.‭ ‬In fact,‭ ‬it’s set to recordings of Sinatra accompanied by a live orchestra and,‭ ‬occasionally,‭ ‬he sings duets with a live female band vocalist.

There is no plot synopsis this time,‭ ‬and I would say virtually no plot,‭ ‬but a series of couples who meet and become intertwined,‭ ‬physically and romantically,‭ ‬at a nightclub.‭ ‬Oh,‭ ‬and during the second act,‭ ‬much of their clothing falls away,‭ ‬so that they dance in their skivvies,‭ ‬which is always a plus.

It is an enjoyable evening’s dance concert,‭ ‬though it insists that it is a‭ “‬musical,‭” ‬and seems to stretch that term’s definition to the breaking point.‭ ‬The choice of individual Sinatra songs‭ ‬--‭ ‬there are‭ ‬34‭ ‬in all during the evening‭ ‬--‭ ‬seems exceedingly arbitrary.‭ ‬And while the program lists character names,‭ ‬there is no dialogue and no way to know who is who other than matching faces with‭ ‬Playbill‭ ‬photos.

Still,‭ ‬Tharp’s eccentric choreography remains compelling and she has gathered some terrific,‭ ‬seemingly tireless dancers to execute it.‭ ‬And the way this season is going,‭ ‬she seems like to win the choreography Tony again.‭ ‬She could win two if there were an award for Best Dance Concert.

‭ * * *

During the day Thursday,‭ ‬I did another interview for the coming season,‭ ‬with Rob Roth and Matt West,‭ ‬the director and choreographer of Disney’s‭ ‬Beauty and the Beast,‭ ‬which is coming to the Kravis Center next season in a newly redesigned production.‭

As Roth concedes,‭ ‬they have finally solved the problem of the ineffectual wolves,‭ ‬which looked like cardboard yappers originally,‭ ‬and will now be represented by menacing puppets‭ ‬--‭ ‬is that a contradiction in terms‭? ‬--‭ ‬by Basil Twist,‭ ‬the guy who designed the puppets for‭ ‬The Addams Family.

The hardest part of the interview was finding Roth and West.‭ ‬They had suggested meeting at the Starbucks at Rockefeller Center.‭ ‬That sounded fine,‭ ‬but,‭ ‬like a punch line to a Jackie Mason routine,‭ ‬there are two separate Starbucks in Rockefeller Center,‭ ‬a dilemma that was further complicated by the fact that I did not know what Roth and West looked like.

Alas,‭ ‬they wore no‭ ‬Beauty and the Beast jackets or caps,‭ ‬but I took a calculated guess,‭ ‬found them and now know far more about the show‭ ‬−‭ ‬which thanks to the Disney marketing machine is the seventh longest-running musical in Broadway history‭ ‬−‭ ‬than I ever wanted to.‭ ‬More on this eventually.

Next:‭ ‬The African musical‭ ‬Fela‭!‬

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