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Come Fly Away -- Theater Review

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After the quick Broadway flop of her Bob Dylan dance musical "The Times They Are A-Changin'," it's not surprising that Twyla Tharp would retreat to familiar territory with her new show, "Come Fly Away." But though this Frank Sinatra-themed effort boasts powerhouse choreography and sizzling dancing, it doesn't have appreciably more impact than the director-choreographer's previous, more concise works based on the singer's classic output, "Nine Sinatra Songs" and "Sinatra Suite."

The show will best be appreciated by dance aficionados rather than general audiences, who might be put off by the lack of a coherent story line. Still, the wonderful dancing, not to mention the Sinatra magic, might help propel the show to a good run.

Set in -- where else? -- a ballroom, "Come Fly Away" features dances performed to dozens of Sinatra classics as well as such jazz standards as "Jumpin' at the Woodside" and "Take Five." Its cast numbers 15 dancers in all as well as featured vocalist Hilary Gardner.

The ostensible story line revolves around four couples involved in various sorts of romantic entanglements, but it takes concentrated focus to tell them apart and, truth be told, one never really cares about them one way or the other.

The striking exceptions are klutzy bellboy Marty (Charlie Neshyba-Hodges) and innocent Betsy (Laura Mead), whose adorable courtship is comically rendered via such songs as "Moonlight Becomes You" and "You Make Me Feel So Young." The balding, rather short Neshyba-Hodges displays such a distinctive personality in his idiosyncratic, athletic dancing that he all but steals the show.

That's no mean feat, considering the caliber of the other featured dancers, who include, among others, the leonine Karine Plantadit, dazzling in such numbers as "Fly Me to the Moon"; John Selya, brilliant in his solo to "September of My Years"; the sultry Holly Farmer, raising the temperature in "Witchcraft" and "Teach Me Tonight"; Matthew Stockwell Dibble, convincingly doing a drunk act in "Yes Sir, That's My Baby"; and Keith Roberts, whose duet with Plantadit on "That's Life" manages to match the intensity of Sinatra's vocal.

Tharp's choreography is consistently striking and inventive, taking a more abstract, sensual tone in the second act, when the performers shed a good deal of their clothing.
But despite the sensational dancing on display, the show inevitably loses impact over the course of its two-hour running time, though the inevitable finale of "New York, New York" manages to end things on a properly buoyant note.

Of course, there is the glorious music, which has Sinatra's vocals (occasionally muffled) accompanied by an onstage band led by Russ Kassoff (who was the singer's touring pianist from 1980-91). The results work so well that one resents the occasional intrusions of vocalist Gardner, who handles several numbers solo as well as "dueting" with Sinatra for one song.

Be advised that the cast is different for the Wednesday and Saturday matinee performances.

Venue: Marquis Theatre, New York (Runs indefinitely)
Cast: Laura Mead, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Alexander Brady, John Selya, Karine Plantadit, Rika Okamato, Keith Roberts, Mathew Stockwell Dibble, Holley Farmer, Hilary Gardner
Concept/book/direction/choreography: Twyla Tharp
Vocals: Frank Sinatra
Scenic designer: James Youmans
Costume designer: Katherine Roth
Lighting designer: Donald Holder
Sound designer: Peter McBoyle
Presented by James L. Nederlander, Nicholas Howey, W.A.T. Ltd., Terry Allen Kramer, Patrick Catullo/Jon B. Pratt, Jerry Frankel, Ronald Frankel/Marc Frankel, Roy Furman, Allen S. Gordon/Elan V. McAllister, Jam Theatricals, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley, Margo Lion/Daryl Roth, Hal Luftig/ Yasuhiro Kawana, Pittsburgh CLO/GSFD, Spark Productions, The Weinstein Company and Barry and Fran Weissler