Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A B+ For Sinatra Dance With Me

I finally got out to see "Sinatra Dance With Me" at the Wynn last night, several weeks after chatting with choreography legend Twyla Tharp and hearing primarily good things from Mike Weatherford (Grade: A-) and David McKee (Liked it except not a fan, evidently, of shirtless men).

I'm a little torn. I am neither one of the millions of Americans nuts about televised dance competition shows nor of the generation that believed Sinatra was The Shit. But for 70ish minutes, I was frequently mesmerized by the beauty and elegance of the four couples and myriad ensemble performers and almost entirely enveloped by the stunningly perfect acoustics of the recorded Sinatra vocals over the live big band.

Trouble was, there were periods in which I found myself focusing on one or the other and finding that the two didn't fit together as well as I'd like. This became particularly evident in the "That's Life" portion in which the dancers got very frenetic and overly affected but I couldn't tie much of anything they were doing to either the lyrics or the story that was sort of being told. (Well, there was the part where the male dancer bobs the female dancer's head when Frank croons "I've been a puppet...".) It also was a bit strange that in segments when there would seem to have been dramatic tensions, when the male dancers are being cads to the women, the women seemed to just keep their very broad stage grins on so as to say... well, I'm not sure.

There were a couple of true standouts, in particular Charlie Neshyba-Hodges as the bartender who falls for the plain girl and freaks out about the familial implications in the first version of "Makin' Whoopie." Neshyba-Hodges, the program says, won the 2010 Astaire Award for Best Male Dancer for the same role in "Come Fly Away," the original Broadway show upon which "Sinatra Dance With Me" is based. The other dazzler was Marielys Molina, formerly of "Peepshow," who took on the role of sexpot Kate because the usual lead, Tony-nominated Karine Plantadit, was snowed out of Vegas along with one or two other regulars. Molina, who normally handles one of the other leads, had a vivacity and power that made it impossible to stop staring at her.

McKee complained in his CityLife review that about two-thirds in, there are a few discordant, very shirtless, sexed-up scenes. He asserted that it seemed base and crude for the classiness that is Sinatra. And yet, I found this to be the most satisfying portion of the program. The audience gets plenty of cleavage and leg from the female performers but the guys are not just buttoned up in period garb for the majority of the show but sweating so profusely through their clothes as to make them occasionally uncomfortable to look at. When they break out of those strictures, their dance also feels looser and more fun, the music felt less museum-piece and more present-tense.

I sat immediately behind, believe it, Twyla Tharp herself. She held a white notepad on her lap but never jotted anything on it, and she left about six songs from the end. I guess she's fairly contented with where the piece is now, which makes sense since she's been producing variations of some of these movements since the 1970s. It was fun, though, to watch her little white head bobbing and shoulders moving to the music as the show started.

What intrigued me, though, was the audience reaction. First, it was nearly full for a Monday but this is a holiday week, so take that for what it's worth. But it was a significantly older crowd -- I may have been the youngest person there -- and they held off their standing ovation until the live band was acknowledged. That was telling; dancing is everywhere these days, but you don't get to see that many live musicians do that sort of music that well very much, do you? I had the feeling some in the crowd would have been just as happy to see them without all the young-people shenanigans on stage.

I enjoyed "Sinatra Dance With Me" enough to give it a B+ and want to go back to see the lead cast at some point. This felt throughout like a Vegas show for grown-ups.