Sinatra songs overcome few glitches in Ambler's 'My Way'

By Clarke Groome
Show Stop

AMBLER - David Grapes and Todd Olson have accomplished what you might think was impossible. They have created a musical revue that pays tribute to Frank Sinatra, and it actually works. How, you ask (at least I did), can a show that features many of the songs Sinatra sang work without Old Blue Eyes?

Surely no one, no matter how good, can sing like he did. That’s true, of course. So what the creators of My Way, the show in question, did was to focus on the songs. By not trying to ape Sinatra or copy the great arrangements by the likes of Gordon Jenkins, Billy May or Nelson Riddle, they produced a show filled with great songs, all 54 of them familiar to Sinatra lovers. The songs, however, don’t belong to Sinatra quite the same way a song written and sung by the Beatles, say, belongs to them.

Sinatra’s songs came from Broadway and the movies. Others sang them. While he may have sung them best, and often he did, they belonged to everyone. Once when asked how to be a successful singer, Sinatra replied, “Sing good songs.” Boy, did he. My Way now is available for your listening pleasure, as the old-time radio folks would say, at Act II Playhouse in Ambler. Set on Nick Embree’s stunning cabaret-like set (brightly lit by James Leitner), Act II’s My Way focuses on the music. Director Michael Licata and his cast don’t overdo their presentation; they simply sing the songs.

Backed by a terrific trio led by pianist and music director Greg Wilder and featuring bass player Keith DeStephano and drummer Eric Rubelt, the singers seem to really be enjoying the music and each other. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Catherine Campbell, Johnnie Hobbs Jr., Fran Plisco and Christine Robertson are the singers who for the most part do a good job with the material, which ranges from “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “The Lady Is a Tramp” to “New York, New York,” “That’s Life” and “My Way.”

No one is a more pleasant stage presence than the suave Johnnie Hobbs Jr. He sings simply and puts his songs across with great conviction. Thanks to the quality of the songs, the pleasantness of the company and the sophistication of the arrangements, the few singing glitches don’t take away from the success of an evening that respects and pays tribute to the Chairman of the Board without making you feel cheated because he wasn’t singing the songs himself.

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