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'Come Fly Away' for Tharp's Sexy, Nostalgic Escapist Take on Sinatra @ Pantages

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Legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp's latest endeavor "Come Fly Away" is a "musical" take on the songs of Frank Sinatra, and the result is a sexy, high-energy dance romp that serves as enthralling nostalgic escapism.

Using four archetype love stories danced by eight principals supported by a half-dozen additional dancers, the dialogue-free 80-minute show relies on the mostly-familiar lyrics sung by Ol' Blue Eyes played atop a live band and broad physical expression of face and limb to convey a variety of emotion and experience.

"Come Fly Away" is set in a downstairs nightclub in a place that seems both timeless and out of time, with its deco, big-band vibe and contemporary attitudes. Taking place over one night, as initial flirtations or tenuous re-connections give way to the darker, sensual closing-time coupling, the often-breathtaking dances easily enrapture audiences as leaps defy gravity, tumbles scrape the edge of the stage, and lift after lift relies on the man's strength and the woman's balance to make it work time after time.

Tharp's choreography, as expected, relies more on couples or individuals performing similar but not identical movements simultaneously, which emphasizes the theme that no two love affairs are alike, and each couple is made of two distinct personalities. (This gets a more literal treatment when the "Babe" and "Sid" characters tackle "I Like to Lead When I Dance.")

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Some of the interpretation of theme and lyric is a bit too literal, with the miming often distracting from the more poetic and artful ability of the dancers' bodies to tell the story, for example the cautionary tale of "Makin' Whoopee." Towards the end of the show, things get very--almost unnecessarily--sexually suggestive, as the characters literally strip down to their underwear and show us the more intimate sides of the mating ritual, even within the confines of the club setting. The costumes, scant as they wind up being, help convey character and story, and act as clues to context in the absence of talking.

There is great humor in the show, especially in the drunken "stumbling" pratfalls and exaggerated movements of "Chanos" and the sassy "Slim," and the meet-cute goofball naivete of barkeep "Marty" and innocent "Betsy." While some may be most delighted with the story thread of party girl "Kate" and her hard-won heart (it's pretty heady stuff as the night wears on and she connects with "Hank"), the romantically lustful "Sid" and "Babe" are a standout story in the mix, as they seem to fit the music best. (Hint: Study your program before or after the show to match up character names with storylines and songs.)

It's a bit of a misnomer to call this a "musical," though for all Tharp's unconventional tendencies, the sparkly Sinatra (literally) ending segment gives way--all the way--to the typical musical cheese. Chances are, however, the whole audience will be gobbling it up and on their feet shouting gleefully, almost as if good ol' Frank had really just graced the stage. It's a bit much, but it gets the job done.

Above all, for a steady hour-plus of terrific music and phenomenal dancing, "Come Fly Away" is a surefire win for a theatre getaway.

"Come Fly Away" is at the Pantages Theatre through November 6. [Tickets]