Frank Sinatra had some cool moves. The swagger, the sway, the snap, the cocky tilt of his head, the hat — all signature gestures that exuded swing and sex.
Those movements and the singer's music inspire "Come Fly Away," choreographer Twyla Tharp's evening-length dance homage to the pop singer's iconic persona — as well as his most memorable master recordings, such as "Fly Me To The Moon," "Witchcraft," "That's Life," "One For My Baby," "My Way" and "New York, New York."
"Come Fly Away" plays Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts for Tuesday through Sunday, May 29 to June 3.
The show, with the blessing of Frank Sinatra Enterprises and the Sinatra family, premiered in Atlanta in 2009 where it became a hit as a two-act show. But when the show moved to Broadway, it didn't fare so well — closing after 183 performances — and certainly not as well as Tharp's smash, "Movin' Out," where the choreographer took the songs of Billy Joel and linked them into a compelling narrative.
"Come Fly Away" is a looser tale, set in a fictitious nightclub in an undefined time. It follows four couples — the club's customers and staff — during the course of a long night as they fall in and out of love and then back again (or not). The master recordings which cover a period from the '50s to '80s — with orchestrations by Nelson Riddle, Billy May and Quincy Jones and several new ones, too — are backed by a live 14-piece on-stage band.
After New York, Tharp revamped "Come Fly Away" for a production in Las Vegas — home turf for Sinatra in the '50s and '60s — where it became an intermission-less 80 minute show. Tharp also added a new number set to "Luck Be Aa Lady." She cut an on–stage female vocalist; the only vocals now are Sinatra's. That production and a 15-member cast is the one now on tour.
Earlier Sinatra Dances
It's not the first time Tharp and Sinatra have made sweet music together. In 1976, Tharp created an American Ballet Theatre gala, "Once More Frank," a dance duet for herself and Mikhail Baryshnikov. In 1982, she expanded that piece to "Nine Sinatra Songs" for a company of 14 dancers. In 1984, Baryshnikov and Elaine Kudo danced "Sinatra Suite," a set of duets, which they performed for Sinatra when he received his Kennedy Center honor
The singer, who died in 1998 at the age of 82, was stunned by the combination of his voice and Tharp's dance interpretations, famously remarking, "Twyla Tharp gave me class."
Tina Sinatra says her father's eyes were filled with tears on that occasion. "It was very sweet," says Tina Sinatra in a recent phone interview.
"The emotional mashing of dance and music is so evoking," she says. "People have a transcendent experience when they see these two art forms together."
Sinatra says she has that same emotional reaction when she sees certain music set against ice dancing, gymnastics or ballroom dancing, "and I don't mean that silliness we see weekly on TV, but serious dancing. Should I say that? Oh, I don't give a crap. I'm very moved by great movement and music, that's what I'm saying, and when that marriage works it's something very special."
What Tharp does so well, says Sinatra, is capture the many moods and shadings in Sinatra's vocals through movement. "Your ears hear him but your eyes see these incredible performers interpret him. Her dance further explains who he was. That's where she floors everybody."
But there is no one dancer, no one character that is her father. They all are.
"Each character is a fragment of him," she says. "The cool cat, the hipster, the guy who sometimes gets defeated, there's the aggressor but also the shy guy. There's the humor, too as well as the man who was always looking out for the little guy and saying we should do more. All of those were who dad was, on stage and off."
She says the show's characters meet in this "timeless" nightclub. "They evolve through the night as the interact," she says. "For some it's a joyous night. For others, it's a tough night. Great mind games are played through music and dance that creates an entire universe. It's a trip. You walk out feeling you've been with him."
She admits that it's not the easiest show to market because some theater goers might be intimidated by the term "a dance program." "Even if that dance program is by a genius like Twyla Tharpe," says Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra was a terrific hoofer, dancing in films such as "On the Town"," "Till the Clouds Roll By" and "Guys and Dolls." Was he a social dancer in his personal life.
"Sure," says his daughter. "If we were in discos he'd get up and dance. He was not inhibited. But he was a real good slow dancer."
COME FLY AWAY plays the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford Tuesday, May 29 to Sunday, June 3. Tickets are $17 to $72, with a $3 surcharge for each ticket sold in person at the theater's box office, $7.50 on the phone and $9.50 on line. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 6:30 p.m.. Information: 860-987-5900 and http://www.bushnell.org.
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