Yesterday was Broadway on Broadway and as the annual live theatre commercial commences in Times Square a show from last season comes to mind. It comes to mind because I’m still disappointed by it. Come Fly Away should have been my favorite theatre experience; it had all the ingredients that I cherish – dance, great music, a sexy cast and a vintage look. When I bought the ticket I remember anxiously placing it on my mantel positioned to be seen every time I walked in the door. Music by Sinatra, dance by Twyla – this is a woman who made Billy Joel songs make theatrical sense - I could not contain my excitement thinking about how powerful the show was going to be with songs already ripe for the Broadway stage.
Come Fly Away ended up being an example of a great idea on paper that never lived up to the concept. What was it, what has left such a bad taste in my memory? I still feel the disappointment in my theatre/dance fan soul.
The story – was there one? Lets first acknowledge that dance is the hardest medium to communicate story because without words the clarity must come from exposed inner emotion and physical presence and that is…well…on the verge of impossible. It is easy to say; “I love you”, but try and dance “I love you” so clearly that an audience watching can see and feel and essentially hear “I love you”.
Thinking about this show and pondering the disappointment it left me with I’ve come to believe that it went wrong with the very songs I was excited to hear. Twyla leaned too much on the songs to tell the story and not enough on the dance.
Sinatra music is not cryptic. His songs mean what they are saying and say what they mean…much like the man himself. His catalogue is not ripe with metaphor rather it’s as sharp as a pinpoint. And that may have been the problem. Mixing songs that define themselves by their clarity with modern dance that is inherently obtuse is a noble challenge but the dance must be so competitive with the music that it can match all the familiarity a popular song automatically brings otherwise the song will naturally out perform or at the very least out entertain the movement, which happened.
Sinatra gives you meaning on a vocal silver platter where Twyla’s style is to be more of an artistic challenge, giving the audience the control to interpret meaning. Sinatra does not like to be interpreted he likes to be complemented.
Sinatra and Twyla would only have come together after his death. I can’t imagine her artistic nature and lifestyle jiving with his women, fame, drinks and play. They both worked hard, but their process to art is opposite and that difference is evident even though Sinatra was long gone long before this show came to life.
I hope that in the future Twyla or whomever gets the rights to work with the Sinatra catalog can enhance the legend rather then bow in reverence to it. Sinatra liked people who could keep up…keep that in mind when you work with him.