The setting should be "Sinatra-esque." In the Nashville premiere (1000 seats), it was designed to look very much like a sophisticated night-club. The touring set drawings for an upcoming mini-tour to regional theatres looks very Copacabana. The Asolo production (175 seats) had a very cabaret look. I imagine some future productions might even have a very Las Vegas-ssy look. And of course, Sinatra always thought of himself as "a saloon singer." So, as for literal setting, the set for My Way can and should be inspired by those things. Places in which Sinatra would have thrived and felt at home are the best choice. That said, "classy" has been a word tossed around a lot in the production reviews thus far. Even though it might be a cabaret, it needs to have a finished, glossy quality to it. An elegance. A dressed up feel. A few of the first productions used Sinatra's signature as an upstage background. I think that the most important question to ask is this, "would Sinatra have done a gig here at any time in his life?" If the answer is yes, then it is the right choice. Also the trio should be on stage dressed in tuxes and in full view of the audience. There needs to be space for the singers to work at the piano and enough room to dance as couples. There is also dialogue between Man #1 and the pianist at the top of Act II.
A black or white baby grand piano
One functional retro (Sony) 50's microphone on a stand center stage with long cord
A fully stocked martini bar
2-4 sets of cabaret tables and chairs
Three bar stools
A tip jar on the piano
Various tall green plants and foliage
A beautiful painted full moon that is flown in or hung during the moon medley
Sound is THE MOST IMPORTANT TECHNICAL ELEMENT of My Way. Sound reinforcement mattered to Sinatra and it will matter to your audiences. The cast sings 56 vocal selections and it is vital that we hear the words and phrasing clearly without having to strain our ears. Sinatra was a true master in the art of using a microphone in performance. Therefore, like Forever Plaid, My Way is intended to be performed using microphones as sound reinforcement. When possible wireless body mics should be used on each performer rather than using stand microphones. In addition to these microphones there should be one working "retro" Sony 50's style microphone center stage that can have reverb and other "big band" effects placed on it. Depending on the size of your theatre, you may also want to reinforce the piano or stand up bass. The show could also be performed using some variation of hand held microphones but I would make that a last option. My recommendation is to start sound rehearsals as soon as possible and locate the best sound engineer you can find to mix the show during each performance.
Pianist/Musical Director: This is perhaps the most important casting decision to be made for the production. This person controls almost everything about the production (tempo, style, energy, etc.). The perfect player would be an EXCELLENT sight reader, who not only has played musical theatre productions, but is in their soul also a jazz player. Much of the music is orchestrated in Sinatra's favorite musical style, swing jazz. The score, while fully written out, is designed so that an accomplished musician can add his/her artistry to the performance. You need an outstanding player who is capable of managing the multitude of tempo, key and style changes that are written into the show's medleys. On the other hand, a certain highly advanced skill level at improvisation is also extremely helpful. The original pianist/arranger/musical director, Vince di Mura, did not play the show the same way twice in over 50 performances and yet he never failed to support the singers or the dramatic action on stage. In many ways, this person becomes a fifth character in the production so look for a great musician who also has an interesting stage personality. This musician embodies the easy going Sinatra "cool," He/she must be capable of assisting the cast members in finding this rather crucial albeit elusive quality in their performances. In all of our initial productions, this musician also served as Musical Director and conducted the stand up bass player and drummer from the piano during performance.
The musical score is constructed in a way that the music almost never stops. It was our intention that dialogue is given underneath solo piano in many of the "banter sections." It is important the performance appears seamless to the audience. We also constructed the arrangements to delay any audience applause until certain key moments.
The show contains a number of optional dance breaks. We were fortunate in the workshop production of My Way to have two Broadway caliber dancers in the cast. Dance is a wonderful element and adds much to the production, if you have the talent to pull it off. Remember that Sinatra himself was a very good dancer. Watch the film version of ON THE TOWN and look at those great musical numbers with Gene Kelly if you don't believe me. The important thing is that the choreography be stylish and not call attention to itself. You'll find when you look at the score little tributes to Astaire, Kelly, and others. The choreography should not look like traditional musical theatre choreography but rather social dancing that is motivated by the music and the location. It should posses class and style and look completely effortless. Never be afraid to let people stand still in a spotlight and "sell the song." After all, these are some of the greatest tunes of the Twentieth century.
Character, theme, and style:
Each of the four characters is unique. Each actor represents a different yet distinctive aspect of the Sinatra mystique. Yet, the actors are also playing themselves. It is important that they feel comfortable enough to bring their own experiences to their role. If you'll look closely at how the songs are arranged, you'll begin to find that each medley contains several scenarios such as "boy meets girl, boy loses girl" etc. In fact, the topic of love, seduction, and romance occupies most of Sinatra's 1360 recordings. Therefore, My Way is largely about the subject of romance and relationships. What it meant to Sinatra and what it means to each of us. A secondary theme that runs through the script is how do you teach someone to be "cool?" You'll notice that Man #1 and Woman #1 have many lessons to teach the younger couple on both of these topics. You will also notice that we use direct address to involve the audience. One of the potential traps for a director is to let the musical become too "presentational" and too "audience centered." You need to maintain the audience connection without sacrificing the "epic feel" of the piece. Remember it is a musical tribute and celebration of Sinatra and not a cabaret performance in which each singer interprets the song in his or her own personal way. We are paying tribute to Sinatra and the reasons he recorded these great tunes in the first place. Direct and shape all the performances through a "Sinatra musical filter." Keep it light, fast and fresh. The actors should be having just as much fun as the audience.
Whatever you do, do not let anyone do an imitation of Sinatra!!! That is a sure fire ticket to disaster. What is important is to have everyone connected to the production listen to as many of Sinatra's recordings as you can get your hands on. Then get the performers to "channel" what they feel and hear from those recordings. Try to use Sinatra's phrasing and musical sense whenever possible without imitating his idiosyncratic vocal mannerisms. You are after the essence, style, and cool of the way Sinatra interpreted a great song, not an exact duplication of his performance. The one thing I do recommend you attempt to duplicate is Sinatra's enunciation. Nobody is better at hitting final consonants than "Old Blue Eyes." The music is always your guide and the arrangements your anchor. Cast great singers and then have them perform these songs with style and grace.
Do not allow actors to ad-lib lines to the audience or add extra Sinatra bits.
It is recommended that you do not use any recorded music (Sinatra or other) during pre show or intermission.
Elegant sophisticated evening cocktail attire (Shorter dresses Act, I longer Act II. Must be able to move)
White dinner jackets Act I
Black tux jackets Act II
The design should be romantic, sensual and moody. The production lends itself easily to the use of dramatic specials, gobos and break-up patterns. I prefer a white cyc in the background, which can be changed to various saturated colors. Two follow spots are recommended. You will be in need of some sort of lighting support for the moon medley and the summer medley. The best productions thus far have incorporated stunning moons and awesome sunsets. All lighting should be more theatrical than realistic and evoke mood rather than place.
Nothing sells a show like recognizable song titles. In your advertising, you may use any song title contained in the show. You may also use the words "A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" when using the My Way title. Remember, you do not have authorization or permission to use Sinatra's picture or likeness to advertise the production. Images contained in a set design are most likely not a problem. All it took in Sarasota to sell out 35 performances were the song titles and some radio buys on the area jazz stations.
The best is yet to come - David Grapes (Bio)
|The MY WAY Road Map: The Author's Subjective Guide to the Detours
I want to write these author's notes as a kind of road map - a way to document the traps that folks will surely find with MY WAY - and then offer concrete suggestions on how to sidestep those traps. Now I know when I have directed revues I either don't read what the author had to say, or I slice and dice the text and score as I see fit - sure that I am "improving" the piece to fit my needs. Well, directors, producers, indulge me a few minutes; you will either read this, or you have already passed over this page. MY WAY is yours more than it is mine at this point, and that is as it should be. But here it goes...
MY WAY is Not a Musical Comedy
This is the trickiest thing because it is relatively easy to misread the genre of MY WAY. It is not a musical comedy - it is a collection of unique songs made famous by a particular performer, the qualities of which we are trying to recall or at least capture the essence of. That said, I know lots of musical theatre performers and directors that will get jobs working on this. But beware. At an intermission recently I heard a woozy husband grumble, " Sinatra stood at the mic and sung the song. What are they doing all this other sh-- for?" And he was right. Sinatra was a guy who, to paraphrase Jimmy Cagney's theory of acting - hit the mark and told the truth. This simplicity can be thoroughly liberating with the right performers. Put away the jazz hands and grapevines, give those "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" mugs and choo choo jazz squares away (very un-Sinatra) and just sing the songs. That will do much more to "sell" this unique collection of songs because the simplicity will recall the man, sans all the busy-ness associated with run of the mill musical comedy.
A Note to Producers and Directors
Producers, be careful hiring choreographers to direct this; they will always see the events - large and small - through the filter of movement. That is an inaccurate impulse for this work, and very un-Sinatra. Sinatra, for a very short time in his career, was a song and dance man; that's why there are the dance breaks there are. But beware the director who is unable to let the performers sit and tell the story: the guy who is drinking again, the women dreaming at the moon, the man hell-bent on living until he dies.
Directors, above all, cast people who know how to work an audience, and who are liked by audiences. Remember, Frank said, "An audience is like a broad; if you're indifferent, it's endsville." It's not enough to "sell the song" as you would have Maria sell "Doe, a Deer..." Like the man, these folks need to need the audience - need them to get involved, need them to get engaged in the music. Song and dance folks often do not.
Finally directors, in some way all four performers - and even the accompanist to some degree - must in their energy, poise, manner, voice, carriage, recall the man. That means you need very masculine men and strong sexy women. Remember, Sinatra was the only man in America who could wear a tux the way John Wayne wore chaps. Find the guy who reminds you of Sinatra during the Capitol years, and the guy that reminds you of Sinatra in the bobby-soxer years - when you have found them, then you have found your men.
Casting the Quartet
A theatre recently asked me, if the actors for MY WAY could be any age, or more specifically, does the young couple have to be young, and the old couple old? My reply had something to do with the following. The challenge from the beginning was to create a work that served as an authentic tribute to a man who lived an epic life, but avoid anything that sounded like a book report, and avoid as much of the "cheese whiz factor" that seems endemic in tributes. What is left is a life filled with distinct chapters: the Dorsey years, the Capital years, the concert years, and the ultimate "Lion in Winter" years. So, there needs to be something in the larger event that somehow gets at that - that long life experience, those hard lessons that come from living as he did, that wisdom of 60 that is absent at 30. I think Sinatra's life is directly reflected in his music, and I think these "characters" are directly reflective of his music. The best productions will keep the young couple young, and the older couple older.
Music and The Sinatra Paradox
Beware the "Sinatra Paradox" - to sing freely the band must some times follow its own rigid beat, even risking leaving the singer behind; Sinatra loved being behind the beat, and would always catch up fine. At the heart of the paradox is the fact that the band is faced with the task of accompanying a singer who is inspired by another singer who was notorious for singing off the band's beat. But to do this, the band must be brave enough to take off and fight that musical theatre urge to follow the singer. In this sense, the band's function is less as an accompanist, and more as another character against which Sinatra would spar. Be assiduous in assigning. 1) when the band follows the singers free impulses, and 2) when the band plays on, leaving the singer to vocally dance in and out of the set rhythm. If you are not - you will fall victim to the "Sinatra Paradox."
A Note About the Medleys
The hardest part of this work was taking 1300 songs and winnowing out the 50 that fit correctly. The medleys consist of songs joined by theme (Cites, Losers, Summer, Moon, etc.) and usually sentiments indicative of a particular time in Sinatra's life (Silly Love Songs, Big Flirt, Survivors, etc.) Only the Favorites Medley consists of a hodge-podge of songs, standards to be sure, that just didn't seem to fit anywhere else, but demanded to be in the show. So, they are all different, melded together with a great deal of consideration and care.
Strangers in the Night is simply a song of introduction with a touch of energy that will drive the twosomes later.
The Favorites Medley is just a time to individually hit the mic and sing the heck out of these songs. There's a little dance to whet the appetites, but no need to go wild; you are just starting.
The Broadway Medley shifts to a higher gear. It has a little more dance, a little more working together in duets and trios a finally quartet.
The Cities Medley is structured as a loose debate, a constant topping of one another. The best stagings of this I have seen have been driven by nothing more than either people swapping the mic from one another, or topping each other more with a kind of comedic inventiveness. It drives along pretty steadily with the exception of the opening to "My Kind of Town" and "L.A. is My Lady" - these two songs play an important part in this medley because they shift to a dramatically lower gear, only to rev up in the very next song to a much higher gear, and, like a series of waves, culminate with the topper of all toppers, "New York, New York."
The Young Love Medley need only be fun, funny, needing a playful inventiveness to drive it. Then the cool change into "Eyes for You." The coolest version of this song I have seen was when the whole medley sprawled all over stage like four people on a playground...only to then drive it all home with a tight, cool Manhattan Transfer like huddle at the center mic in a tight spot, as tight as the harmonies in "Eyes for You" are, with a gentle blackout happening on the last "you," slowing it all down to a gentle stop.
Having kicked into a slightly lower gear, the lines into Summer Medley gently ease us into the dramatic low point of Act One. This medley is the epitome of the "don't just do something, stand there" school of acting. It's two sweet and slow ballads that sandwich a cool, swinging standard that - over a few verses, revs up to a kind of pitch - but not one so high that it cannot transit gently into "Indian Summer." This, along with the Losers Medley and most of the Moon Medley, makes up the quietest moments in the work. Why? Because the engine must rev up all again with the final medley in Act One: Love and Marriage.
The Love and Marriage medley is kind of two medleys. It begins as a debate between the men and the women (it used to be called the Philosophies of Love medley in another life). Then, in the middle, "Love and Marriage" happens and the debate shifts from women vs. the men, to the older-wizened folks vs. the young-idealistic folks, finally culminating on the one thing on which everyone can agree, "All the Way." It's the longest medley because it has these two distinct stages, which is fine considering the whole evening is headed for a break, the intermission, a breath of air.
The Losers Medley is best staged the way Sinatra staged many dramatic moments, sometimes with these very songs, in his television specials: in a small, simple, special. A lone and lonely singer in a shaft of light. One of Sinatra's favorite things to do after concerts was to drive to an out of the way piano bar - and he knew where all the piano bars were - and sings songs with a few friends after hours. That's this medley. Only "Here's to the Losers" shifts gears and pulls everyone out of the blues.
The Big Flirt Medley contains many songs that he recorded later in life, from the perspective of middle age, or at least from people who know and have been burned by the love game. It is structured that the young couple courts each other and the older couple court each other; that's how the songs match up. "You Make Me Feel So Young" is the playful, giddy finale that tops it all off (the best staging I have seen of this medley kept everyone in gentle and even boozy pursuit of each other, and the final song wasn't choreographed as much as it was romped.)
The Moon Medley is the medley that frequently, for my taste, gets mis-staged. Again, it is sandwiched between the Big Flirt Medley and The Survivors Medley - the medley with the single highest dramatic moment in the evening, "That's Life." So The Moon Medley must relish and preserve its own quiet moments. If you ever saw Sinatra's concert with Antonio Carlos Jobim (who wrote "Dindi" and "Wave") you know a little about where this medley should begin. Sinatra and Jobim are in chairs. He's got a drink in one hand, and mid-song, he lights up a cigarette. Now, I'm not saying folks should be smoking and drinking during this medley, but it's the FEELING - like gazing out on the moonshine on a dark beach with a cool breeze blowing. Get a moon, a big moon, and let the singers sing in the moonlight. Only the last song, "Fly Me to the Moon" should - like a cool beat - a second wind - drive the medley to a high note.
The Survivors Medley starts with the sweet, quiet poetry of "This is All I Ask," and begins the medley with the most dramatic stair steps, step one being the sweet musings of an old man, step two being the hip, optimistic song of seeing the best ahead, step three being the fervent, driving credo "I'm Gonna Live Til I Die," and the last step - the topper of all toppers, "That's Life."
Ironically, the only way to top this pitch is to end on the antithesis - the quiet but anthemic "My Way." The most powerful versions of this I have seen keep the quartet together, a true ensemble, standing tall at the center mic, with no more movement than a proud toast to the master.
The book portion of this work serves the music on several levels. It provides a thread onto which the pearls of these medleys hang. It gives the performers a bit of a break between sets, just as happens in cabarets. It also helps contextualize the medleys - answering in a single line why these songs were put together in the first place. These lines are guideposts of sorts: "Here are some of our favorites," "...Frank's street of dreams that he loved so well...Broadway," "...we give you our cities tribute," "Here's a few of those fun hits from the early days," "...summer love...and perfect memories," etc.
Todd Olson (Bio)