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Stories told in dance to Sinatra songs

Frank Sinatra and Twyla Tharp go back a long way together.

“Come Fly Away,” the musical that Broadway Lights brings to Charlotte next week, is only the latest turn on the dance floor by the crooner and the choreographer. It grows – in a big way – out of a work that Tharp created more than two decades earlier, for a dance company of her own.

In “Nine Sinatra Songs,” Tharp used Sinatra recordings and 14 dancers to create mini-portraits of seven couples – from giddy young people to a pair whose relationship is on the rocks. Those were only glimpses, though, and the spotlight was really on the romance and thrills of the dancing.

“My thinking 20 years later,” Tharp said this week, “was to revisit some of those couples that I found so interesting ... and ask, well, how did they get together? Did they stay together?”

That’s where “Come Fly Away” picks up. There’s no dialogue. Tharp’s choreography and Sinatra’s songs – a whole show’s worth of them – do the talking. There’s no need for a storyteller beyond Sinatra’s voice.

“It’s because Sinatra was a consummate musician,” Tharp said. “It’s because he was a terrific singer. And it’s because he was a real actor, so that when he delivers these lyrics, there’s the emotion of a monologue.”

When she created “Come Fly Away,” Tharp had already directed shows built around Billy Joel and Bob Dylan. Sinatra, she said, offered an entree to an array of great songwriters and lyricists. Their creations supply “incredible wit, sophistication, attitude, hope, despair – all of those good things having to do with love.”

“So it’s a much more universal picture than with any single author, as with a Dylan ... or Billy Joel. So many people are represented in Sinatra.”

Even though that last sentence was about songwriters, it could also apply to all the characters, situations and emotions that came to life through Sinatra’s voice.

“Come Fly Away” ties right in with that.

“ ‘Come Fly Away’ deals ... with folks whose relationships are a little screwed up,” Tharp says.

“Are they going to be able to learn lessons? Are they going to be able to change the situation? Or are they stuck?”

“But it’s fair to say that I am an optimist,” Tharp said. “I do like to insist that, yes, they can turn things around and end up on their feet.”

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