Twyla Tharp’s dance extravaganza set to the Sinatra songbook, “Come Fly Away,” doesn’t lead us gently by the hand, but wrenches us into an Art Deco ballroom as if by the Chairman of the Board’s fiat to “Siddown and enjoy yourself!” And that we do, through 25 of his very greatest standards and the choreographed birth and growth of several romances in the course of one gin-soaked night. Trimmed by more than a half hour from Broadway and minus its intermission, the show is a lively wallow in gorgeous music and equally gorgeous bods.
The narrative is considerably less elaborate than that for Tharp’s Billy Joel tribute “Movin’ Out,” and perhaps for that reason, even more compelling.
Four couples whom we can readily chart – some sexy, some funny, all varying degrees of cool – meet on the dance floor to flirt, quarrel, separate and reunite to the music of the preeminent romantic troubadour of our century.
They also gradually doff more and more of their clothes, unusual behavior in any nitery but a familiar response whenever that troubadour is on the phonograph.
The way they wear their hats is very much in keeping with the classic ring-a-ding-ding style. Dashing Cody Green (on opening night; there’s cast mix-n-matching at different perfs) and brooding Martin Harvey are the most obvious stand-ins for Ol’ Blue Eyes, with respective partners Meredith Miles and Marceea Moreno exuding the kind of smolder you figure Angie Dickinson must have ignited when hanging with the Rat Pack.
Interestingly, the most stage time and final bow are allotted to the least Sinatra-esque pair: comical bartender Ron Todorowski and impatient-for-commitment Mallauri Esquibel, audience faves in every leap and pratfall. (Though on second thought, they possess an air of Nathan and Miss Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls,” and Todorowski gets some “Come Blow Your Horn” assistance from the dapper Green. So maybe there’s more Sinatra there than meets the eye.)
Tharp’s gift for fusing social dance and classical ballet tropes is in full flower here, paralleled by a neat fusion of original vocals – mostly from the mid-to-late career, strong and husky – with Rob Cookman’s live (with some electronic augmentation), 14-strong big band.
Not all the dance settings seem apropos. Donald Holder’s lighting and the lyrics for “One For My Baby” suggest late-nite weary reverie at odds with its pas de deux’s gymnastics, like figure skaters whose dazzling moves don’t at all reflect their musical accompaniment. That number killed as part of Tharp’s previous, briefer “Nine Sinatra Songs” dance suite, but here it smacks of overkill at a time when we and the couples could use a breather.
But when style and number connect, which is most of the time – as in the sizzlingly sexy “That’s Life” and “Witchcraft,” or the men cutting loose to bring an entire bachelor party to exuberant life in “I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die” – “Come Fly Away” sweeps you away in a veritable orgy of nostalgia and romance. That’s life – or it oughta be.