Sunday, 18 July 2010

Come Fly Away, or The Show that Fell Between Two Stools

After an afternoon of searing racial drama, I decided to opt for something musical for the evening performance, and after some dithering decided to try something a bit different.  Come Fly Away follows in the increasingly worn pathway of all the other recent musicals which have looted the back catalogues of a variety of famous singers and proceeded to string often depressingly thin plots onto their backs and proclaim them A New Musical.  That soubriquet is very much in evidence here.  However, Come Fly Away, is a little bit different.  Basically, this is a piece of modern dance which just happens to be choreographed to Frank Sinatra's songs.  Frankly, I can't quite see how this can really be made to square with the generally accepted definition of a musical, and I can't help suspecting that it is being called A New Musical in order to attract the audiences who have already flocked to Momma Mia, We Will Rock You and so on and so on.  Be that as it may, having disposed of the question of genre the next question is does it work as a piece of modern dance, and the answer is well frankly no.

In fairness I suppose I am bound to acknowledge that the show does attempt to have a plot, albeit one so loose as to be practically meaningless.  The whole event takes place in a bar, against a soundtrack of 30 odd Frank Sinatra hits.  As far as I could discern you have one young ingenue couple falling in and out of love, and two men fighting over another woman (I think one of my problems may have been that I found it really rather difficult to work out why two men should have been fighting over this particular woman, but anyway, moving on...).  On the plus side, and a remarkable technical feat this, you do get Sinatra singing all the numbers, with support from a marvellous live big band, and a rather bland Featured Vocalist (her programme credit), Hilary Gardner.

So what exactly is the trouble with all this?  Well first, clearly I was likely to have a bit of a personal problem with the show in that I like to have characters who engage my emotion, and a flimsy plot such as this one is unlikely to create characters who will do that.  Despite this, I have been entranced by modern dance in the past, Impressing the Czar at the Edinburgh Festival being the prime example.  This did not happen here.  As far as I'm concerned Twyla Tharp's choreography often didn't fit with Sinatra's music, and it quickly became rather repetitive.  I'm not saying that the dancers weren't all very good, or that there weren't some breath-taking moments, but I found myself spending far too much of the time wondering how what the dancers were doing was supposed to match up with whatever number the disembodied Sinatra was then singing.  And that, indeed, was a further problem: Sinatra's musical performances, particularly ballads like One for my Baby and September of My Years had far more emotion than much of what was happening on stage, such that I wanted to just close my eyes and listen to him, which I'm sure was not the effect that Tharp was hoping for.

I am not a balletomane, as I think I may have mentioned on previous occasions, but I believe Twyla Tharp is something of a legend in that world.  That Sinatra is a legend in his goes without saying.  I am all for experimenting, but in the end I'm afraid the verdict on this one is that they would have been better carrying on their legendariness independent of one another.

Finally, one note of housekeeping, can there really be a justifiable reason for any theatre charging $12 for a glass of wine?  I do think the Marquis Theatre might look at its prices.  Although possibly this is typical across Broadway (this was my first drink at a theatre bar since I arrived in New York) in which case the world has clearly gone mad and there will be no choice but to endure dull shows without the benefit of alcohol.

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