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Frank Sinatra's Vocals Pair With Twyla Tharp's Dance Steps in Come Fly Away

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It was his ice-skating teacher from Russia who got Nathan Madden into ballet. Madden, the son of two Air Force parents, ended up in Minot, North Dakota (known worldwide for its question motto: "Why Not Minot?"), and the only two options were ice skating and hockey, Madden says.

"I'm not a violent person, I don't like to see people bleed, so I thought I'd try ice skating," Madden says. "It came really easily for me and my coach was Russian and he'd say, 'You need to take ballet, ballet, ballet, ballet.'"

But this was Minot and Madden says while he had a great, safe and outdoorsy childhood there, the number of dance studios it offered was zero. So his mom and a business partner started a dance school and hired the ice-skating instructor to lead the classes. Madden eventually picked dance over skating "because dance was harder." All of which underlines once more that there is no necessarily direct one-size-fits-all route to the performing arts.

Madden, whose family continued to move around -- he spent his senior year at HSPVA (and later graduated from Juilliard) -- is back in Houston with Come Fly Away, the latest offering from Gexa Energy Broadway coming to the Hobby Center. The show pairs the smooth vocals of Frank Sinatra with the quirky choreography of Twyla Tharp.

Once during high school, Madden said, he went through a typical teenager phase and tried to give up dance. "My parents said, 'You're so talented we're making you do this. We're not letting me stop.' So there was a year when they forced me to go to dance and then I got over it and loved it again, and I'm so thankful. "

While he was at Juilliard, he'd sneak over to Broadway and audition, Madden says. "Casting agents got to know me." In fact, he was offered a spot on the tour of Moving Out, "but I wanted to finish high school." So he declined. "I knew Broadway was going to be there." But an opportunity with TUTS came up -- that's where he got his start -- and now he's back in another production. "It's the right timing and I'm here."

Madden performs as part of the ensemble and understudy to the Sid role, which he gets to do three to four times a week. A 14-piece orchestra backs up the recordings from the Chairman of the Board, as couples whirl their way in and out of love during one night in a club.

"If you're coming expecting a Frank impersonator, you're not going to get that. For me the magic is that it really is Frank's voice," Madden says. "And on top of it you have Twyla's choreography; she always challenges herself and reinvents herself. The show has gone through many changes; in New York it was two acts -- they brought it to Vegas and shortened it, made it one act. I think it's extremely entertaining. It's about an hour and 25 minutes. No intermission. "

"If you love big-band music and if you love women being thrown across the room to another partner, maybe you'll have a good time. We certainly do," Madden says.

Come Fly Away runs April 10-15, Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For tickets, call 1-800-982-2787 or go to www.thehobbycenter.org.

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