'My Way' pure pleasure for Sinatra fans

Tim Reid
Sheville Citizen Times

Flat Rock Playhouse Cast - Doug Kampsen, Ginger Newmann, Kathy Weese and Johnny Fredo. Directed by David Grapes. Set Design by Dennis Maulden. Lighting Design by Todd Wren.
Flat Rock Playhouse's season opener, "My Way," is sure to please the legions of Frank Sinatra fans with its enthusiastic review of songs made famous by the legendary singer and performer. A smoky nightclub is the perfect setting as John Fredo, Douglas Kampen, Ginger Newman and Kathy Weese belt out the tunes that made Sinatra a musical icon and "Chairman of the Board."

It is as though four elegant party-goers out on the town decide to sing their favorite songs, backed up by expert musicians Vince di Mura (piano), Brad Albin (bass) and Paul Babelay (percussion). Sinatra fans will find such classics as "High Hopes," "I've Got the World on a String," "The Lady Is a Tramp," and "That's Life," interspersed with interesting facts about the singer and his world.

Sinatra's liking for women and alcohol, and his legendary talent - recording nearly 1,400 songs in a career that spanned generations - are remembered fondly. The performers do not try to mimic Sinatra but rather to recreate the man and his mystique through his music. Particularly moving were the songs celebrating cities, everything from "I Love Paris" to "Chicago" and the immortal "New York, New York." "I'm Going to Live Til I Die" seemed to best capture the spirit of Sinatra, and of course "My Way" made a triumphant finale.

Old Blue Eyes would be proud.

Flat Rock Playhouse's production of 'My Way' is a must see

Katie Winkler
Hendersonville News Times

I didn't know Frank's music that well. Simon and Garfunkel, yes, but not Frank. Well, I do remember this one album my parents had - old blue eyes on a field of blue, singing the blues. I think it was a concept album. Frank sort of invented those, you know. I didn't until last night at Flat Rock Playhouse, where four talented players taught me a thing or two about Frank Sinatra in opening night of My Way, a musical tribute to the music and person of Frank Sinatra. While it's difficult to take a personality as big as Sinatra and try to funnel it into a small theater in a small mountain town in the south, the company certainly does its darndest.

They start out with a bang-up set - a bar that is smoky yet bright with neon light, with all the curves and lines, chrome and ebony of the time. The costumes are also appropriate, moving from day to nighttime cocktail attire.

But it's the players - suave John Fredo, funny Douglas Kampsen, sultry Ginger Newman and pretty Kathy Weese, along with the excellent band, of course, who are charged with bringing us the essence of the man - his music. The revue, with book by Todd Olson and direction by David Grapes, is made up of a series of medleys interspersed with exposition of Sinatra, his life and loves.

With so much music to sing and information to give, I was impressed that the creators of the show are also able to give life to the characters who become our "teachers." Throughout the night, we see an inexperienced couple, Doug and Kathy, gradually learning the seductive repartee of the seasoned swinger as they are instructed by Ginger and John.

While I was indeed entertained by the interplay, it naturally led to stronger singing performances by John and Ginger, whose voices seemed to do more justice to the style of music they were singing.Of course, Doug and Kathy, the blonde couple, are certainly talented. Doug brought energy and needed comic relief to the show and Kathy has a beautiful soprano voice that mellowed with the evening. Her best solo by far was her last one. Dressed in a shimmering gold and black dress, she danced and sang The Best is Yet to Come with great enthusiasm.Doug Kampsen was at his best in combination with the others, especially as the "sidekick" for John Fredo - the singer closest to Sinatra in looks, style and voice. The two had several songs in the "Love and Marriage Medley" that showed the obvious chemistry between the two, while Fredo taught Kampsen the tricks of the trade.

Tall and sultry, Ginger Newman was impressive in her solos as well as her duets with Fredo, especially the duet That Old Black Magic. Newman also stood out in her first solo in evening dress, when she torched it with the best of them during the lament Out to Dry.

But the singer who best captured Sinatra's style and personality was John Fredo, whose solos, duets and dances were strong throughout. He wowed the audience with his closing solo That's Life backed up with the harmonies of the other three. Sinatra's passion for song and zest for life came through in all its glory during this song.

I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to get to know Frank Sinatra, and his music, better. I think you will too. If you already love Frank, like so many at the Rock did last night, you'll no doubt want to make this musical tribute a must see.

They Do It His Way Flat Rock presents tribute to Sinatra

Neil Shurley,
Metro BEAT

Frank Sinatra's advice to those seeking success in the music business was short and to the point: "Sing good songs." My Way, a tribute show now playing at Flat Rock Playhouse, proves that Sinatra excelled at following his own good advice.

Structured as a loose musical revue, the show wisely avoids any attempts at Sinatra impersonation. After all, this is a singer whose very style was defined by the unique phrasing and sense of personal experience he brought to every song. Just as no impersonator, no matter how sincere, can truly capture the charismatic life force that burst out of Elvis even at his most plump, turning any Elvis wannabe into an immediate self-parody, a Sinatra impersonator would only end up being a caricature at best. Only Sinatra can sing like Sinatra.

So when David Grapes and Todd Olson of the Tennessee Repertory Theatre envisioned a theatrical tribute to the man and his music, they attempted to construct a show that could celebrate Sinatra's essence through some of the many songs he recorded ~ over 1,300 over the course of his career. Utilizing four actors, two male, two female, Grapes and Olson fashioned a nostalgic blend of light banter, light dancing and scores of songs.

Under the direction of co-creator David Grapes, Flat Rock Playhouse's production of My Way stars John Fredo, Douglas Kampsen, Ginger Newman and Kathy Weese, all of whom worked in previous incarnations of the show (which premiered at Tennessee Rep in July 2000). All four inhabit their stage personas with ease, playing off each other with comfort and grace. The real star, however, is Vince di Mura, the musical director for the original production who appears at Flat Rock as leader of the three-piece band (Vince diMura on piano, Brad Albin on bass and Paul Babelay onpercussion). The band performs flawlessly, perfectly balanced with the vocals of the four actors. Vince diMura's clever arrangements of song standards not only serve the vocalists well, but also manage to give a sense of stylistic coherence to the medleys while still retaining a touch of the familiar arrangements used in Sinatra's original recordings. It's not easy to put a personal stamp on a song like "Fly Me to the Moon," for instance, which owes so much to Count Basie's signature style. But di Mura manages to simultaneously convey his own fresh take on the material while also keeping true to the spirit of Basie. It's a marvelous feat of musical engineering. The song selection makes for a nice mixture of tunes, most of which will be familiar to the most casual listener, with some occasional nods to the more die-hard Sinatra enthusiast. "New York, New York" and "All the Way" are undeniably great songs, but lesser known works like "Lean Baby" and "Out to Dry" deserve their appearances here, hopefully to be appreciated a new by contemporary audiences.

The songs are assembled into ten medleys, each of which highlights one of the many different over arching themes one canform from Sinatra's canon. The Loser's Medley (featuring a superb reading by all four actors of "It Was a Very Good Year") is easily the most appropriate for the show's nightclub setting. No one could sing a saloon song of despair like Sinatra, and this medley gives a nice overview of his many classics in the genre. Director David Grapes takes advantage of the nightclub setting by placing the band on stage, sometimes even interacting with the actors. He weaves moments of humor and, by evening's end, a touch of genuine emotion throughout the songs, giving us a sincere and great-sounding musical revue.

Sinatra himself was a study in contradictions. The hot-tempered Vegas high roller and the quiet philanthropist. The skinny "Swoon-atra" and the paunchy "Chairman of the Board." The Oscar-winning actor and the Grammy-winning singer. By the end of his life, he was often remembered as much for his alleged mafia ties and stormy love life as for his films and recordings. But when the Rat Pack finally fades from our collective memory, there will always be the songs. My Way is a warm, affectionate and tuneful reminder of those brilliant melodies that remain Sinatra's greatest legacy.

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