Familiar tunes highlight: tribute to Frank Sinatra

The Herald Courier.

Barter Theatre cast (left to right) Doug Kampson, Ginger Newman, Kathy Weese and John Fredo.
Because they are all so familiar, youmost likely can recognize a Frank Sinatra tune in the first few notes of the introduction.

His voice, his style made all his music his own, and any other artist, even the songwriters themselves, were merely doing covers of a Sinatra song. Many songs were written especially for Sinatra to record, and record he did. His body of work numbers nearly 1,400 songs.

Song stylist Sinatra's legendary music is in revue through Sept. 14 at Barter Theatre's Main Stage.

In "My Way," two men and two women move smoothly and charmingly through a whopping 56 of his tunes, using flirting and wit and dance and conversation to illustrate the mood and the times.

They pair up as couples, sing solo, and group up all four sometimes with quick segues from one song to the next. They leave you wanting to hear more of each song but quickly delighted to recognize the next one.

Each set of songs is in a natural grouping of like ones: there's the Favorites Medley, the Broadway Medley, the Cities Medley. There's Young Love, Marriage, Summer, Moon and Big Flirt Medleys. A partial listing of titles will give you the feel for it: "My Funny Valentine," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "I Love Paris," "My Kind of Town," "Summerwind," "That Old Black Magic," "Fly Me to the Moon", and "New York, New York." The costumes are stunning for a night out on the town dancing. The second act brings even more elegance with formal gowns and black tie tuxedos. With a real three-piece combo of piano, bass and drums on stage, the feeling of a special date is very believable. The mood takes you back to when Sinatra was performing television specials and concerts and it doesn't matter whether you were 14 or 40 at the time. In fact, it is highly desirable to see this performance with someone of a different generation to compare the "back when" experiences.

The four performers beautifully interpret Sinatra's music; no one "plays" Sinatra or tries to sound like him particularly, but you can't help hearing and sensing "Old Blue Eyes" just the same, if only in your memories. The four are John Fredo, Douglas Kampsen, Ginger Newman and Kathy Weese. Each has played the role many times over many seasons in residence and by touring, although not always with the same set of performers. These four are as fresh and flirty as happy new lovers can be.

"My Way" was conceived and written by David Grapes and Todd Olson. It is directed by Grapes. Vince di Mura is musical director and pianist. Eric Brown is on bass fiddle, and Kyle Walsh is percussionist. The choreography is done by John Fredo. The "to-die-for" dresses and ensembles are the work of Amanda Aidridge.

The set by Tom Gleeson highly suits the elegant mood by being part dance floor, part classy bar, and part intimate cafe. It imparts the feel of both indoor space and yet the great outdoors as well to fit the setting of each song. Oh, those lovely songs: "Let's Face the Music and Dance," "I Only Have Eyes for You,” "It Was a Very Good Year,” and "The Best is Yet to Come." What a sweet way to cap off the summer.

Sinatra would be delighted with Barter's Play

Warren M. Harris

I think Frank Sinatra would have been delighted with the Barter Theatre's current production of My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra because, like the super-star himself, it reeks with style, both musically and visually.

This revue of Sinatra's songs, conceived by David Grapes (who also directs) and Todd OIson (who also provided the sparse dialogue), focuses entirely on the stage persona of Sinatra.

It leaves the dubious aspects of Sinatra's personal life to sensational biographies and the Larry King Show. Nor does it treat his early days when he made bobby-soxers scream, since this would have been out of keeping with the sophisticated tone of the evening. Instead, My Way gives full attention to richly sampling the music of his amazing career as a mature crooner, king of the jazz-Iaced pop sound of the '50's and '60's.

Barter Theatre cast (left to right) Doug Kampson, Ginger Newman, Kathy Weese and John Fredo.

Directed by David Garpes. Costumes by Amanda Aldridge. Set by Tom Gleeson. Choreography by John Fredo.

The evening avoids chronology, being shaped instead around themes, like Broadway, Cities, Love and Marriage, and the Moon. It is not easy to select highlights from so many familiar and superbly done songs. But the cleverly staged "New York, New York" and the lavishly rendered title song "My Way" were for me most memorable.

Although John Fredo (Man #1) looks and moves very much like Sinatra and has a similarly resonate voice, this is not an impersonation show in the vein of the Barter's recent Elvis offering.

The revue format relies not only on Fredo, but also on three other singers of various vocal ranges, including Douglas Kampsen (Man #2), Ginger Newman (Woman #I), and Kathy Weese (Woman #2). AIl four, with their excellent and distinctive voices, capture the quintessence of Sinatra's cool, smooth style.

Fredo's accompanying choreogra phy includes various types of ballroom dances and the Broadway chorus line, with a generous seasoning of Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers pyrotechnics as welI.

Musical Director Vince di Mura seamlessly blends his onstage instru ments with the actors' voices, offering a variety of focus as he highlights each performer in turn. For lovers of jazzy tunes, the deliciously expressive rhythms of the band (di Mura on Piano, Eric Brown on Bass and Kyle Walsh on Percussion) would alone more than justify the price of admission. Between songs, the actors intersperse comic and serious tidbits about Sinatra. The dramatic content of the show never goes much beyond the almost palpable erotic, electricity between couples which suffuses most of the numbers.

Sensual elegance is the keynote of Amanda Aldridge's atmospheric costumes. The soft black-and-white simplicity of the men's dinner attire nicely offsets the slinky, sequined gowns which Newman and Weese invest with a maximum of sexiness.

The night club setting glitters in art deco chrome against midnight blue and black, epitomizing the swank, boozyenvironment which the Chariman of the Board took as his hallmark. The bar stools, cocktail shaker, and martini glasses have the same high polish as the music which they accentuate.

The strength of MyWay is not variety. Both the music and the staging, though superbly suited to the occasion, rarely surprise.

But it more than compensates for this by capitalizing on Sinatra’s own secret of success: It has a large number of great songs, performed with unfailing sophistication and flair.

(Warren M. Harris, Ph.D., is Professor of English at Southwest Virginia Community College)

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