By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

In September 2009, the  Alliance Theatre premiered the stunning Twyla Tharp-Frank Sinatra dance musical “Come Fly Away” (then called “Come Fly With Me”); the show had a critically acclaimed Broadway run and is now on the road, this week at the Fox through Sunday, August 7.  Theater of the Stars is producing, with Ms. Tharp re-creating her direction and choreography.

The show has been honed to a thrilling 85 minutes, no intermission.  Set in a 40’s style nightclub where four couples (and several other dancers) fall in and out of love (think Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room), you won’t find better dancing on any stage anywhere.  There is a 16 piece onstage band (plenty of brass!) supplemented by recorded strings and—most important—the actual Sinatra recordings.   They are incomparable:  the essence of sophistication, subtlety, yearning, and power.  He’s not called “The Chairman of the Board” for nothing.

Happily, Ms. Tharp and Mr. Sinatra were mutual fans, and he was very moved by her 1984 creation “Sinatra Suite,” with Baryshnikov.  She always sensed that Sinatra was really an actor who sings, and she uses the emotion and mood he created in his songs as her narrative line in “Come Fly Away,” even more than she did in her Broadway hit “Movin’ Out.”

And what songs they are:  “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” “That’s Life” (wait until you see the joyful, almost violent pas-de-deux for this number), “One for My Baby,” “Witchcraft,” “Body and Soul,” and many more.  And let’s not forget the two Sinatra “national anthems”:  “My Way” and “New York, New York.”

I found myself pondering what makes Sinatra’s singing so magical; but like any great artist he defies analysis.  Sometimes I think his taut phrasing is saying, “Listen to me; I’ll show you how to really live—with passion and joy and without fear, apology, or regret.”  But that’s just me.

The dancers are magnificent.  I recognize two from the original production:  the brilliant John Selya (a Tharp favorite) and Matthew Stockwell Dibble.  Unfortunately, my seat was back a little too far to put names, faces, and bodies together.  This is the Fox we’re talking about; try to get closer for a more visceral experience.

Oh, yes, sex—as the evening progresses (just like an evening at a dance club), clothes start to get a little scarcer; skirts a little shorter; shirts start to disappear.  Maybe it’s about the time “Makin’ Whoopee” is sung; or maybe it’s just “Witchcraft.”  Dance is a very sensuous medium, as you know.

Lighting is by Broadway’s Donald Holder; scene design, James Youmans; sound design, Peter McBoyle.

Let’s return to Twyla Tharp.  What an artist—her dances reveal danger and desire, heartbreak and ecstasy, the yearning to connect, and the joy and power of being alive.  She has said the audience absorbs energy from her extraordinary dancers, and she wants to “send people out feeling better about themselves”.  You did it, Ms. Tharp, and we thank you.

For tickets and information, visit www.theaterofthestars.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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