With Keith Buterbaugh, Nicole Fenstad, Kristin Huffman and James Ludwig. Directed by Todd Olson. At Actors Theatre through Aug. 18.

No one can dispute the influence of Frank Sinatra on popular music or that he helped etch memories into the hearts and minds of millions. Sinatra, or "The Voice," recorded more than 1,000 songs, many of them familiar tunes like "Summer Wind" and "Love and Marriage." Highlights from the crooner's extensive discography are the focus of "My Way -- A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra," currently playing at Actors Theatre.

Actor's Theatre Louisville cast.
Director: Todd Olson,
Lighting Design: Tony Penna.
This tribute is not a recitation of the facts of Sinatra's life. "My Way" skips the darker side -- Sinatra's alleged ties with the Mafia and his drinking and womanizing -- in favor of commemorating the music that Sinatra left behind when he died in 1998. And it's done with a flair that the Chairman of the Board would have applauded.

The Bingham Theatre is transformed into a nightclub, complete with black lacquered bar tables, tall bar stools and crystal chandeliers. A light, odorless smoke drifts down from the theater's rafters to mimic cigarette smoke. "My Way" jumps right into the best of Sinatra with a small section from "Strangers in the Night." After "Strangers," the four members of the cast invite the audience into the heart of Sinatra's music with "Come Fly With Me."

The rest of the musical selections are divided into categories. For example, the Cities Medley category includes sections of "I Love Paris" and "Chicago." The most memorable number in this category was "New York, New York." For this number, the cast dons black fedoras and dances around a solitary microphone on a small rotating dais at the stage's center. Breaks between the medleys were opportunities for the actors to recall quotes from Sinatra and memories other musicians had of the man. The last category of the first act, the Love and Marriage Medley, includes snippets from "The Lady is a Tramp," "Witchcraft" and "I've Got You Under My Skin."

Kristen Huffman
The second of two acts opens with the Losers Medley, which sets a darker tone for the rest of the tribute. Parts of "It Was a Very Good Year" and "Here's To The Losers" were among the songs in this category. But Sinatra, well known for his somber tunes, is also remembered for his toe-tapping, feel-good melodies. The remainder of "My Way" included bits from "Fly Me To The Moon," "The Best is Yet to Come," a reprise of "New York, New York," and "My Way." The audience gave the cast a standing ovation for the reprise. This was not the last song of the musical, and the gesture seemed to surprise the cast.

However, the four deserved every bit of the applause. They never missed a beat and offered Sinatra's melodies in clear, well-interpreted notes. A highlight was Nicole Fenstad's soprano in "Love and Marriage" and Keith Buterbaugh's "Summer Wind." But the music worked best when the four, including Kristin Huffman's spicy alto and James Ludwig's rich tenor, worked together. It was apparent the cast has a deep appreciation for Sinatra's music and will keep up the energy through the last performance.

The voices are accompanied by the show's music director and pianist, Gayle King, and bassist Mark McCulloch and percussionist Jeff McAllister. The live music added an almost tangible richness to the musical selections and topped off the evening. Another highlight of the play was knowing that Todd Olson, the author of "My Way," served as the production's director. Olson and David Grapes conceived "My Way" soon after Sinatra's death.

Cast: Nicole Fenstad, Kristen Huffman, James Ludwignd Keith Buterbaugh.

"My Way" is a fitting tribute to the music that made Sinatra a pop icon and is fondly remembered by many generations. It is an excellent summer treat that gently entices you, like the mild breezes of a summer wind, to relax and enjoy the dog days of the season.

"My Way" runs through Aug. 18 at Actors Theatre of Louisville, 316 W. Main St. Call 584-1205 or visit www.actorstheatre.org for performance and ticket information.

Dana Norton - LEO

Tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes may stir nostalgic memories, win over new fans

The Courier-Journal

Blame the post-World War II baby boom on Frank Sinatra. A generation may have been conceived in the 1940s and '50s when couples made whoopee to Frank Sinatra LPs like "Songs for Swingin' Lovers."

If you don't know what an LP is or what "making whoopee" means, then you're from another generation altogether. But that doesn't mean you can't be a fan of the stylish vocalist from Hoboken, N.J., who died in 1998.

Costume Design: John P. White

Sinatra, a singer of popular standards by such songwriting greats as Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen, continues to gain popularity. Like Tony Bennett, he's been discovered by a new generation of music lovers.

"My Way -- A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra," which opened last night at Actors Theatre of Louisville, will stir memories for older audiences while winning over new fans.

The nearly full Bingham Theatre audience last night was composed mainly of seniors, but word-of-mouth should spread quickly about this romantic, slightly melancholy show, sponsored by Fifth Third Bank, that features an incredible number of Sinatra songs -- 60 in all.

The two-hour, two-act show is divided into medleys. There's the Broadway Medley, including "My Funny Valentine" by Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You"; a Cities Medley with "Chicago" and "New York, New York;" and two Love and Marriage medleys with "Can I Steal a Little Love?" and "That Old Black Magic." There's a Losers Medley ("Drinkin' Again") and a Survivor's Medley ("That's Life" and of course, "My Way,") that caps the show.

Cast member: Keith Buterbaugh

All four singers in the show are making their ATL debuts. I'd love to see more of Keith Buterbaugh, whose deep, silky voice sounded similar to Sinatra's, but not as if Buterbaugh was trying to mimic the legend. He has a charming style of his own. Nicole Fenstad provided the soprano for the four-part harmony while the huskier alto of Kristin Huffman brought a lustier element. Fenstad's "Where or When" was poignant and affecting while Huffman's "My Funny Valentine" had a bluesy, chanteuse quality that hinted of Bessie Smith. James Ludwig, a young tenor, represented in song a youthful Sinatra. But it was Buterbaugh's "One More for the Road" and "Summer Wind" that reminded me why I'm a Sinatra fan.The musical was conceived by David Grapes and Todd Olson of the Tennessee Repertory Theatre of Nashville. Olson directed the ATL show with choreographic assistance from Gail Benedict and invaluable support from musician Gayle King, both of Louisville. As musical director and pianist, the reliable King and her band (bassist Mark McCulloch and percussionist Jeff McAllister) were spot-on from the opening "Strangers in the Night" to the tender "I'll Be Seeing You" that sends the audience off with a champagne toast.

Set Design: Paul Owen

When he wasn't brawling, boozing or womanizing, Sinatra recorded more than 150 hit songs between 1940 and 1980. He had staying power. The ATL musical should, too. The Chairman of the Board would like it that way.

By JUDITH EGERTON - The Courier-Journal

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