The national tour of Twyla Tharp's Come Fly Away, which launched Aug. 2 in Atlanta, is offering audiences a reconsidered and streamlined version of the Broadway production. The latest incarnation of Tharp's pulsating celebration of Frank Sinatra is essentially the show that ran earlier this year in Las Vegas, where it was known as Sinatra Dance With Me.
A dance musical performed to the voice of Sinatra and an onstage 14-piece band, Come Fly Away now runs an intermissionless 80 minutes. "When we went to Las Vegas, we took the opportunity to rework," says Dave Pierce, the show's music director. "The show works better without an intermission, which really stopped the momentum. Now it just keeps building."
The tour will reunite several former Broadway and Vegas cast members, including Tony nominee John Selya, Cody Green, Laurie Kanyok and Ron Todorowski.
Conceived, choreographed and directed by Tharp, Come Fly Away received its world premiere in Atlanta in 2009 and, despite largely enthusiastic reviews, ran a disappointing 188 performances on Broadway in 2010. The show follows four couples as they romance — sometimes turbulently — on a crowded nightclub floor to Sinatra standards. Pierce and Don Sebesky wrote additional orchestrations and arrangements to supplement the brilliant originals by the likes of Gordon Jenkins, Quincy Jones and, of course, Nelson Riddle. "There are a number of songs that we've been careful to keep exactly as they were performed," says Pierce. "Some of these arrangements are just as important as the harmonies and melodies, so you don't mess with them. With [others] we've changed the instrumentation.... It's dictated by what Twyla needed for her dances."
When Pierce first went to work on Come Fly Away, he had the opportunity to listen to original tapes from Sinatra's studio sessions, including the voice of Ol' Blue Eyes minus any musical accompaniment. "It [was] an unbelievable experience," he says.
For Pierce, who wore out his Sinatra Trilogy cassettes as a teenager (the only other young Sinatra aficionado he knew was a friend named Michael Bublé, with whom he now often works), those listening sessions helped inform some of the choices he made for this show. He was also privy to outtakes and Sinatra's thoughts on the way a particular recording was shaping up, which gave him a kind of intimacy with the artist he never met.
"Sinatra's music inspired me to become an orchestrator and arranger," says Pierce, "and working on this project has been a thrill."