Perhaps I’m beginning my review on an unacceptably mercantile note, but I believe that the under-sung heroes of the thrilling Come Fly Away (at the Ordway, through Oct 16) are the producers, and their agents and attorneys, who worked the phones, did the lunches, flew to L.A. on the private jets – and secured the stage rights to the vast Frank Sinatra oeuvre. What a tangle this must have been, with the myriad songwriters (and their heirs), Capital Records (who owns this catalog now?), competing musicals (Guys And Dolls), movies (New York, New York), all vying for their personal piece of the proverbial pie.
But they did it. And we are the clear winners, for it’s our privilege to see this two-fold celebration: music sung by the amazing Frank Sinatra combined with exhilarating choreography by the great Twyla Tharp.
Come Fly Away is simplicity itself: set in a stylized night club, the electrifying Sinatra music is performed by a first rate jazz ensemble, with the Voice emanating from large speakers on either side of the stage. There’s no plot to speak of, just lithe and lovely dancers responding to the music: four couples plus an ensemble of “swing” dancers. The show features two plus dozen Sinatrian classics, played over 80 intermissionless minutes. The dancing becomes increasingly sweaty and sultry – and more intense. Yum.
I shouldn’t name these artists for you; they revolve nightly and the cast you see may well be different. But I can say that they are to a person excellent – and beautiful. One of the great pleasures of this show is watching these muscular and graceful bodies performing Tharp’s masterful choreography.
That and the music. Starting as a hugely popular pretty boy, Sinatra went through a horrible crisis in the years after WW2. His voice seemed shot, he was aging poorly, he had a nasty temper. But something wonderful happened and starting around 1950, in album after album, featuring classic after classic, Sinatra created an unrivalled body of work. His voice was perfect, his timing effortlessly superb. No singer has ever come close to the standard Sinatra set, and it’s likely that no singer ever will. He is one of the great artists of the 20th century.
And now, thanks to the marvels of 21st century technology, the Voice lives on. Who isolated Sinatra’s voice, eliminated the old accompaniment, and arranged the new music? Was it music coordinator Talitha Fehr? Music director (and keyboardist) Rob Cookman? Well, you know who you are and we thank you for making Come Fly Away possible.
For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.