Apollo hits with 'a snappy, snazzy' show

By GARY A. PANETTA
Journal Star critic

PEORIA - "My Way! A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra," now running at the Apollo Professional Theatre, is a snappy, snazzy little show that's likely to win a big following.

True to its title, this lively little revue is a tribute, not an imitation, of the man from Hoboken. The style and feeling of Sinatra's singing is evoked rather than duplicated. The result is not merely an informal overview of one of the 20th century's great interpreters of popular music but also a trip down memory lane, at least for those who are old enough to have grown up listening to Sinatra's distinctive baritone voice.

For the rest of us, the show is a reminder of what really good song writing is like. This production is a string of musical pearls, well-crafted melodies that Sinatra made famous such as "You Go to My Head," "Fly Me to the Moon," "Moonlight Serenade," "The Best is Yet to Come," "New York, New York," "I Love Paris," "My Funny Valentine" and "L.A. is My Lady," just to a name a few. If names such as Cole Porter, Glenn Miller, Richard Rodgers or Cy Coleman mean anything to you, you'll want to see this show.

You're not likely to be disappointed. From the start, this production evokes a classy, nightclub atmosphere. The small stage is simultaneously bar and performance space. A few key details such as a champagne bottle in a silver bucket; light bulbs lining the proscenium and the martini glasses; the upright bass, piano and drums immediately let you know you're in Sinatra's world.

The singers - Jessica Henson, Jessica Leigh Brown, Mark Forrest and Pat McRoberts - enter with easy elegance from the aisleways. Henson and Brown wear eye-catching black and white, off-the-shoulder dresses; Forrest and McRoberts are smartly dressed in tuxedos.

They look great, but their singing is even better. Standing behind a microphone, Henson begins "My Funny Valentine" softly, sensuously but then works up to some high, ringing notes. Brown coyly bites a finger, puts her hand on a hip and delivers a snappy version of "The Best is Yet to Come." Forrest captures something of Sinatra's tone and phrasing, while McRoberts does nicely with in "New York, New York."

"My Way!" is no mere stand up and sing affair; these singers act as much as sing, flirting, berating and teasing their way through the performance. Some splendid, jazzy backup is offered by Ed Kaizer on piano, Jake Hamann on drums, Tom Olszewski on bass and Paul Weddle on saxophone. If this show swings, these folks deserve half of the credit.

"My Way!" is a lot of fun - a first-class treatment of some first-class music. It's jazzy, lively and well-performed, and an excellent alternative to more traditional holiday fare. Whether you love Frank Sinatra or simply want to hear some famous standards, this is a show well worth taking a chance on.

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