Tharp & Sinatra: Up Where the Air is Rarified

Special Features   Tharp & Sinatra: Up Where the Air is Rarified
Director-choreographer Twyla Tharp partners with her old pal Frank Sinatra in the love-conquers-all dance extravaganza Come Fly Away.
Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp Photo by Marc von Borstel


Director–choreographer Twyla Tharp is describing the four couples in Come Fly Away, her romantic confection of a Broadway musical set to the smooth sounds of Frank Sinatra.

There's bumbling Marty (Charlie Neshyba-Hodges) and bashful Betsy (Laura Mead): "They see each other, fall in love, and the world transpires to pull them apart." Hank (Keith Roberts) and Kate (Karine Plantadit) are on-again, off-again — in other words, "dysfunctional" and "really f***ed up." The cocky, fedora-wearing Sid (John Selya) and seductress Babe (Holley Farmer) have a "yin and yang between them — this attraction–repulsion." And Chanos (Matthew Dibble), dejected after being rejected by Babe, rebounds with easygoing Slim (Rika Okamoto): "For tonight, they're together."

But there's a fifth couple she omits — and while you won't spot them spinning, swinging, or sliding across the stage of the Marquis Theatre, make no mistake: Without them, Come Fly Away wouldn't, well, fly. And that's Twyla Tharp and Frank Sinatra.

Throughout her 45-year career, Tharp has drawn inspiration from artists like Chuck Berry (Ocean's Motion), Scott Joplin (The Raggedy Dances), Bruce Springsteen (Short Stories) and Bob Dylan (The Times They Are A-Changin'). In 1973, she broke ground with Deuce Coupe, a gutsy synthesis of ballet and modern dance with a Beach Boys soundtrack and graffiti-streaked set. And in 2003, she won the Best Choreography Tony for her moody Billy Joel composition Movin' Out.

Frank Sinatra

Yet Tharp has relied on no voice more than The Voice. The two have been engaged in a three-decade-long pas de deux dating back to 1976's One More Frank, "a one-off that Misha and I did for a benefit," says Tharp, referring to Mikhail Baryshnikov. In 1982, Tharp created Nine Sinatra Songs for her own company; two years later, Baryshnikov and Elaine Kudo premiered Sinatra Suite. ("When Sinatra got the Kennedy Center Honor he asked us to do it as a tribute," Tharp says proudly.) With Come Fly Away, Tharp has "flipped the tables": "Instead of having the man demand independence, I made it the woman. The women in this have just as much to say as the men. "Vocalist Hilary Gardner will be live on stage; backing her and a recorded Chairman of the Board — what, you expected a Sinatra sound-alike? — is a 19-piece band, employing original orchestrations by the likes of Nelson Riddle and Billy May. In total, Come Fly Away comprises some half-dozen tunes from the singer's five-decade career.

"It's not like we're doing the life story of Frank," says Tharp. It's about what Tharp calls a "much bigger world." As for the fact that Come Fly Away gazes dreamily at that world through rose-colored glasses, the creator is making no apologies. "Oh, my goodness — could we do something for people just to let them, yes, escape…where all they have to do is enjoy it?" Tharp asks rhetorically. "Could we do that? Yeah, we can do that."

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