'My Way' a real treat - Opening Night Productions captures the mood of Sinatra's music.

March 28, 2003

By Neil Novelli
Contributing writer

The revue "My Way," presented by Opening Night Productions, is a splendid evening of cabaret entertainment. The show, seen in dress rehearsal, pulls together about 50 of Frank Sinatra's hits, inviting listeners to savor a wide range of moods. The performers are accomplished actors as well as singers. They know how to create an easygoing, intimate space where performers and audience can travel through some shared experiences.

The mood of the first act is mostly playful, and the songs sometimes feed into one another. John D. Smitherman is singing a jaunty "Sunny Side of the Street" when Jessica Edwards fetchingly crowds into his space with the come-on: "All of me, why not take all of me?" Bob Brown looks on and echoes Smitherman's reaction with a jubilant "I've Got the World on a String," and off at the side Cathleen O'Brien sings her own wry comment: "He's got high hopes. ..."

The performers, by the way, don't imitate Sinatra in any way. Rather, they create their own stylings and bring their own sense of drama to the songs. Many of the songs are classics that powerfully evoke moods, and the singers do wonderful work with them. O'Brien, for example, leads off a Broadway medley with a deeply moving "My Funny Valentine," and Edwards sustains the reflective mood with "Where or When."

The singers' voices are of different timbres, so there's always an effect of freshness and variety on their solos, and of vocal richness when they sing together. Between songs, the script has some lightweight patter about Sinatra, but "My Way" is mostly about songs that were, and still are, worth listening to. Everyone will have different favorites, but I think everyone will be delighted by the whole cast chiming in on "New York, New York," a song they reprise at the end. "Summer Wind," seldom heard, is a rare treat as sung by Brown.

In the second act, the mood is somewhat more serious. In "One for My Baby," Brown's voice is at its burnished best as he sings Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's mildly boozy lament for a lost love. At the climax, Brown and the others belt out a gusto-filled, gospel-styled "That's Life." The song "My Way" is saved for the wrap-up at the end, along with "New York, New York" and the tender finale, "I'll Be Seeing You."

© 2003 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra.

James MacKillop
Syracuse News Times

It was all in the phrasing for Ol' Blue Eyes. He might never have composed a song or penned a lyric, but the style was all his, despite many imitators. For Opening Night Productions' new show at the Glen Loch dinner theater, this musical review means honoring the phrasing without mimicking the man. With six decades of music to choose from, the show turns out winner after winner after winner.

Unlike the narrow-casting of today, where Eminem's fans would never listen to Britney, Sinatra flourished at a time when every resident of North America would know almost every one of his songs. This is both a benefit and a challenge for this show: Audiences may love the music, but they already like it a prescribed way. The four performers here succeed by making the music fresh yet evocative at the same time.

The company's four singers appeared in Opening Night's recent comedy Lend Me a Tenor: baritone Bob Brown, soprano Cathleen O'Brien, tenor John D. Smitherman and soprano Jessica Edwards. And talk about working as a team! Smitherman and Edwards are recently married and visibly touchy-feely on stage, while Brown and O'Brien are frequently cast opposite each other and bring visible credibility to the love duets.

O'Brien, Edwards and Smitherman also have operatic training, the likes of which Sinatra never knew. But as American kids, their superior breathing and control do not cancel out the popular idiom. O'Brien's heart-stopping "My Funny Valentine" early in the first act shows how this review will be done: Her projection might be superior to Sinatra's but her phrasing still evokes the pride of Hoboken. She works the same magic with "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," written by Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne.

Smitherman, who from experience should be the least at home with this material, proves himself a game pal by providing self-deprecating comic relief. This is not only for the light patter but also in musical numbers like "Young at Heart." He gets a wider range with "You Go to My Head" and the driving "I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die."

Edwards, who has sung leads in both Evita and Die Fledermaus, finds her own idiom in Rodgers and Hart's classic "Bewitched." Her most powerful moment comes at the beginning of Ervin Drake's "It Was a Very Good Year," which becomes the most affecting of all the ensemble pieces.

As for Brown, the prime force driving Opening Night Productions, he's never done better than finding My Way as the right vehicle for himself. Indeed, the team who put together this show, David Grapes and Todd Olson of Buffalo's Artpark, might well have thought of it as a showcase for Brown's talent's and persona.

As he shows with "The Lady is a Tramp," Brown is clearly in charge. And after more than 160 local shows with well-publicized ups and downs, he delivers Sinatra's gag, "We only live once--and the way I live, once is enough," with assuring conviction. There is no more resonant loss to be found than what he brings to "One for My Baby." And his "That's Life," assisted by Smitherman, is the real crescendo of the second act rather than the title song that follows it.

Director Brown also brings the three musicians, led by keyboardist Steve Windheim, on stage and in costume with the singing quartet, allowing us to see as well as hear how much they give to the entire ensemble. Francis Albert Sinatra will have been dead five years this spring, but his phrasing in My Way is still pretty lively.

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