Upon arriving at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts Tuesday night, attendees were given a substitution list of the names of the dancers that would be hitting the stage in that night’s “Come Fly Away.”
It was then explained that the dancers in this show are frequently subbed out and that different performers are commonly filtered in throughout the run of the show.
And now I know why.
Though only 80 minutes long (with no intermission), “Come Fly Away” is a non-stop, kicking and dancing machine. And the dancers who perform it are both fearless and flawless.
To call it a musical is almost misleading. There’s no dialogue, no real storyline and all the songs are “performed” by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, or at least his original recordings. A live big band helps propel the music and bring the classic Sinatra score to new heights. While the incredible choreography and direction of Twyla Tharp sets the lyrics to motion and meaning.
At first, it’s somewhat challenging to be watching a story of just movements, searching for the spoken word to guide your journey or trying to grasp a plot. But soon enough, you find the main characters, understand their story and ease into Frank’s world, where the lyrics of his songs are the only dialogue that’s needed.
Four couples act as the centerpiece of the show — finding new love, falling in love and at times, even falling out. Ballet allows the soft, flowing movements of puppy love, where salsa and jazz portray the hardships of relationships and the love triangles that can form.
A cast of 15 dancers light up the simple stage, infusing a range of styles — including a few nods to some dirty dancing — into a swinging, jazzy nightclub atmosphere. While the choreography is no doubt brilliant, full of twists and flips you never thought possible, with 27 Sinatra songs, it’s bound to get a little repetitive.
Still, you can’t help but be impressed with the energy and focus of these talented performers. No dialogue and no real singing means there’s no real break for these dancers to catch their breath. One song eases right into the other — one movement into the next. And somehow, they still find time for costume changes.
Admittedly I’m not a big Sinatra fan but those who are will find this show to be a touching tribute. And those who aren’t familiar with his music will find new appreciation for the late singer’s amazing talent. By removing the standard lines and scripted scenes, the audience is forced to pay attention to the words of Frankie’s songs, perhaps more so than in other musical settings. Certain songs take on new meaning while others are finally understood.
It’s an interesting concept and certainly one that urges the audience to use a bit of imagination. It’s not your typical musical, but then again it’s not trying to be.
“Come Fly Away” runs through Oct. 16 at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul. For ticket information, click here.