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Theater review: Twyla Tharp's 'Come Fly Away' at the Pantages

October 26, 2011 |  1:25 pm

Mallauri Esquibel and Ron Todorowski
If Beyoncé isn't already at the Pantages taking notes, she should be. No choreographer alive knows more about getting pop songs on their feet than Twyla Tharp -- and just about everything she knows is on view in “Come Fly Away,” the full-evening salute to the vocals of Frank Sinatra that opened Tuesday for a two-week run.

In various forms, under various titles, this show has been around since 2009. The Pantages version is a half-hour shorter than the 2010 Broadway edition, with seven songs, a dancer, an onstage vocalist and an intermission jettisoned for the tour. At a lean 80 minutes, it charts the formation and rivalries of four couples in a nightclub that sports a sensational live band upstage.

PHOTOS: 'Come Fly Away' at the Pantages

Under the supervision of Dave Pierce, that band artfully supplements and often dominates the classic arrangements and orchestrations of Sinatra's recordings. What's more, Peter McBoyle's sound design makes Sinatra's voice seem a living entity -- as if he's offstage, mike in hand. 

Marceea Moreno and Martin HarveyTharp has been choreographing to Sinatra for more than 30 years, and “Come Fly Away” contains  quotations from her previous creations for modern dance and ballet. But it also differs structurally: Instead of one showpiece duet following another, she opts for a fluid, unpredictable format in which new dancers continually invade and heighten other dancers' specialties. Moreover, the movement style here relies less on ballroom dancing than ballet technique -- with experimental lifts even more prominent than in Tharp's 2002 Billy Joel musical  “Movin' Out.” 

Her 14 dancers define that style with spectacular authority. It's the way we'd all dance at parties -- if we were young gods. But there's a major caveat: Tharp has never told stories or shaped characters with distinction, so her eight leads are all playing stereotypes, forever reiterating a very limited range of expression and seldom getting deeper than the steps.

The triumphant exception is Cody Green as Sid, passionately dancing out his demons and making every move unforgettable. By the highest Tharpian standards -- Baryshnikov in “Sinatra Suite,” Tom Rawe in “Nine Sinatra Songs” -- this is a great performance.

Meredith Miles and Cody GreenAs it always has since 1976, the flamboyant apache duet to “That's Life” flattens the audience, and Marceea Moreno and Martin Harvey's faultless execution lives up to expectations. Ron Todorowski spices his cute-kid act with amazing flips, Meredith Miles poses statuesquely in red satin, and the other principals (Mallauri Esquibel, Marielys Molina and Matthew Stockwell Dibble) punch out virtuoso  steps with aggressive expertise.

But be advised: Lead roles in the show are double-cast, with individual dancers appearing in only three-to-five performances per week. So what you'll find throughout the run will often differ from the opening-night lineup.

Glitzy scenery by James Youmans and rather cheesy costumes by Katherine Roth make "Come Fly Away” seem to exist in a lurid '70s purgatory. But Donald Holder knows how to light dancers for maximum effect.

And when the four lead males explode into a delirious, no-holds-barred challenge-dance to “I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die” (with additional contributions from the corps), it makes no difference whatsoever where they are or what they're wearing.

RELATED:

'Come Fly Away' with Twyla and Frank

Ol' Blue Eyes is back in Twyla Tharp's new musical

Theater review: 'Movin' Out'

-- Lewis Segal

“Come Fly Away,” Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Through Nov. 6. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 pm. Saturdays, 2 and 8 pm. Sundays, 1 and 6:30 pm. $25-$105. (800) 982-2787 or www.broadwayla.org. Also: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Jan. 31-Feb. 5. $20 to $80. (714) 556-2787 or www.scfta.org. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Photos: "Come Fly Away" couples, from top, Mallauri Esquibel and Ron Todorowski,  Marceea Moreno and Martin Harvey, Meredith Miles and Cody Green. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times

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