Thursday, June 7, 2012

Theatre review: "Come Fly Away" from Pittsburgh CLO

A traveling road company version of the musical Come Fly Away has landed for a few days brought in by Pittsburgh CLO. Actually CLO was part of the producing team for its 2010 Broadway five- month run before it took off for elsewhere.

The show, as you may already know, is choreographer Twyla Tharp’s setting of dancing to great pop music standards recorded by Frank Sinatra. Given today’s technology, it’s now possible to have a live big band playing the arrangements which go with his voice. Meaning some by Lawrenceville’s Billy May and the North Side’s Sammy Nestico. Lovers of big band jazz will find this a treat, given Sinatra’s classic, classy vocals and the playing by 14 first-rate musicians led by Rob Cookman. P.J. Perry especially stands out with some memorable saxophone solos.

Of course, it isn’t primarily about the music; it’s about what’s done with it. The set represents a night club dance floor where men and women tease, court, connect, withdraw, embrace, collapse, revive, stand, strut, soar, tumble. There are no story lines, no real developments, no noticeable attempts to move in ways which literally interpret the song lyrics. Nor nothing that represents air travel, although the dancers at times make it look as if they almost could fly. Representations of relationships come and go, while, in 80 uninterrupted minutes, eight generically-named dancers pair off into duos, or trios or quartets in non-stop, dynamic, flashy, astonishing steps, some colored by ballet but most looking like the good stuff you’d see in many major musicals choreographed by major talent. Tharp goes less often for big ensemble numbers, even though six other performers are defined as a separate ensemble.

Fundamentally three pairs of dancers keep on coming together. Opening night that meant that Pittsburgh’s Ron Todorowski matched up with Amy Ruggiero (“Marty” and “Betsy”) or, as “Sid,” our town’s Stephen Hanna danced with Meredith Miles as “Babe.” Another regular combination was Anthony Burrell and Ashley Blair Fitzgerald called “Hank” and “Kate.” Since all of them left non-stop impressions of vitality, charm, class and sass, I see no cause to single out one above the other. If you go, though, you might want to study the program in advance to see who is matched with which song.

Sinatra is heard in 25 numbers, few of them in their entirety, all of them sounding great. There are also a couple of other pieces, the band romping through the Basie classic “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” or taking its own spotlight in Paul Desmond’s Dave Brubeck-hit “Take Five.” There is some suggestion of a progression as the show winds down with “One for My Baby,” and “My Way,” but then the big finale leaps into action to flashy “New York, New York” which seems an odd choice for a conclusion, this being elsewhere than the Big Apple. There must be something else which would have more meaning for all of us other Americans. What about “Come Fly With Me"? That would have made sense.

Come Fly Away keeps on swirling through Sunday, June 10th, the last performance at 7:30 at Benedum Center, downtown. 412/281-2822 or

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