As her latest Broadway show bursts forth on a stage located just steps away from the Capitol Records studio where Sinatra recorded a vast collection of number one hits that helped change forever the face of popular music, the full-circle nature of the event is bound to be floating somewhere in Twyla Tharp’s prolific mind.
Given that COME FLY AWAY had its genesis some 30 years ago, it has been quite a journey to this place.
One of the most accomplished and versatile artists working today, Tharp has created groundbreaking work in ballet, modern dance and on Broadway, in addition to her successes in film and television.
From as early as 1973, when The Joffrey Ballet premiered her work, Deuce Coupe, set to the music of The Beach Boys, Tharp has found artistic success in blending the worlds of popular music and modern dance. Three years later, her work Push Comes To Shove, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov, was unveiled at American Ballet Theatre, creating a sensation in the dance world.
Ms. Tharp has choreographed more than 135 dances and five films (Hair, Ragtime, Amadeus, White Nights, I’ll Do Anything), and she has both directed and choreographed a number of Broadway shows.
Tharp’s work first appeared on Broadway in 1980 with When We Were Very Young, followed by her collaboration with David Byrne on The Catherine Wheel, and later Singin’ In the Rain. But she is probably best known to theatre audiences for her explosive 2003 Broadway musical, Movin’ Out, which used the music of Billy Joel to tell a poignant story set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. Movin’ Out was one of the centerpieces of Broadway/L.A.’s 2004-05 Season at the Pantages Theatre.
Drawing from her early upbringing working at her family’s drive-in movie theatre, Twyla Tharp learned from a very early age to read action, tell a story and express passion without the use of language. Her devotion to the language of movement thus became a driving force in the desire to discover the inherent vulnerabilities within men and women; a theme that resonates in many songs made famous by Frank Sinatra.
Tharp commented on Sinatra’s words by saying, “The words augment. The words tell you how Sinatra felt about that. How Sinatra felt to be made to feel young. How Sinatra felt when he got dumped. How Sinatra felt when he realizes his vulnerability – his mortality.”
Sinatra’s music and words often also brought forth the everlasting conflict of the sexes, a theme which Tharp has also used as a catalyst to demonstrate sexual fireworks between her characters.
Sinatra’s music, which contained the “heart on the edge of your sleeve” humanity, provided Twyla Tharp the inspiration to partner with Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1976 to create a piece devoted to Sinatra called Once More Frank.
Six years later, Tharp was compelled to plumb Sinatra’s catalogue to create Nine Sinatra Songs, which presented 1950s social dancing through the nostalgic and yet sharpened eyes of the 1980s. It was at the premiere of this work where Ms. Tharp received a personal endorsement from The Chairman of the Board himself. Sinatra approached her in tears and exclaimed, “I want to be a dancer!” Tharp famously replied, “Don’t quit your day job!”
Two years later, in 1984, Tharp continued her love affair with the music and energy of Frank Sinatra, creating Sinatra Suite, a self-contained concentration that draws partly on the moods and moves from the enormously popular Nine Sinatra Songs, as well as from the more intimate Once More Frank.
When Frank Sinatra was to receive his Kennedy Center Honors Award, he personally requested that Sinatra Suite be performed, citing it as one of the purest expressions of his body of work.
Recently, daughter Tina Sinatra commented on her father’s love of both Nine Sinatra Songs and Sinatra Suite by mentioning that “he was very moved and very proud of that.” About her father’s feelings for Tharp, Tina said, “He’d say ‘She gives me class.'”
COME FLY AWAY follows four couples as they fall in and out of love during one song and dance filled evening at a crowded nightclub. Tharp brings forth a striking and sometimes bittersweet look at the reality of people and relationships against a backdrop of romance painted by Sinatra, as performed by a live on-stage big band.
Daughter Nancy Sinatra states, “I knew right away that she had captured the essence of my father’s music in dance. You see the personalities of the dancers play out as their stories are told. People will really identify with these stories.”
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COME FLY AWAY will be at the Pantages Theatre (6233 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood) for 16 performances only, October 25-November 6. Performances are Tuesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 1pm & 6:30pm. Tickets are priced from $25 and are available at www.BroadwayLA.org, by phone at 800-982-2787, and at the Pantages Box Office (6233 Hollywood Blvd., open daily at 10am).