MY WAY Does Frank Sinatra Favorites the Right Way

If you love the sound of Sinatra's voice, stay home and listen to his recordings. They're all you've got. But if you love the songs he sang, the best is yet to come: My Way, a compilation of music and lyrics made famous by Old Blue Eyes, is performed with punch and elan and packaged with love in a handsome production by Phoenix Theatre. Not to go would be something stupid.

My Way is more than a celebration of Sinatra: It's an evocation of a time when every saloon was the Rainbow Room, and every random encounter was a potential romance. The key to the show is the songs and their winning performances by Rusty Ferracane, Kristen Drathman, Nick Cartell and Natalie Ellis.

When Sinatra sang, the experience was all about him. No less a figure than Ira Gershwin complained that Sinatra's way with a song could actually distort both tune and words. But when this quartet sings My Kind of Town or Summer Wind or Wave or That's Life or My Funny Valentine, the song's the thing. It's a lot like hearing them for the first time.

Though there are no characters, Ferracane and Drathman are the mature couple in the show, playing nicely off the ingenue personae of Cartell and Ellis. And while Cartell and Ellis have some nice moments, Ferracane and Drathman come off like champions. Drathman knows how to characterize a song. She turned L.A. Is My Lady, of all things, into a meaningful ballad with an implied character. Ferracane can swing a song without messing up its structure, as he showed in a terrific take on I¹ve Got You Under My Skin. Together, the two made Something Stupid - yes, Something Stupid - into a dramatic scene out of some yet-to-be-written book show. Alan Ruch leads a hotly focused band (Ken Bucy, bass; Mark Stolper, drums). Paul Barnes' stage direction unobtrusively varies the configuration of four-people-onstage-singing.

Greg Jaye's perfectly post-WWII set transports us to a big city supper club, with a masculine, hardwood interior and a heartbreaking skyscraper view. Paul Black's lighting creates a smoky ambiance.
Kenneth LaFave - The Arizona Republic

Fly Me to the Croons -
In its stylish tribute to Frank Sinatra, Phoenix Theatre does it My Way

It was a Sinatra crowd that took their seats last Friday night at Phoenix Theatre for a second-week performance of My Way, a tribute to the Chairman of the Board that's been doing boffo box office. The program crams 56 Frank Sinatra songs into a handsomely produced, gracefully entertaining two-hour show that celebrates the man and his music.

The fellows who conceived this revue, David Grapes and Todd Olson, have stuck mainly to Sinatra signature songs like "Strangers in the Night," "The Lady Is a Tramp," and, of course "New York, New York." But there's a handful of delightful obscurities here, most notably "Dindi," "Wave," and "Lean Baby," a song I'd never heard performed by anyone. (Fortunately, I took my father with me to this show; he's a longtime Sinatraphile, and explained to me the origin of each of these numbers.)

There's no clever attempt to string these wonderful songs together into a narrative. The tunes are arranged by theme, a conceit that finds numbers like "That Old Black Magic" and "The Tender Trap" lumpedbtogether in a medley called "Love and Marriage"; or dumped together in a less cunning fashion, as with the "Cities Medley," which -- you guessed it -- marries "I Love Paris" with "Chicago" and "My Kind of Town." These songs are presented as solo turns, in duet, and occasionally in lovely four-part harmony.

Purists may care that there's precious little Columbia-era Sinatra here, or that none of the Gershwin tunes he covered are included. But there's plenty of Cole Porter, and nearly every one of the Chairman's biggest hits. If Grapes and Olson have skipped some obvious choices -- most notably "Nancy" and "Come Fly With Me" -- it may have been out of fear that regional directors would cute them up with silly stage bits.

They needn't have worried about Paul Barnes, who creates a simple one-evening tour of several eras by highlighting the music and sticking to the script's minimalist Sinatra biography. (This is Family Hour Sinatra, so the handful of reminiscences steer clear of his mob connections, his Vegas brawls, and his turbulent romance with Ava Gardner.)

Thankfully, there's no attempt by the cast to re-create the Sinatra sound. No one takes a shot at Ol' Blue Eyes' phrasing or his unique manner of sustaining breath. Instead, the songs are presented in arrangements built for the wide singing talents of each of the four cast members, to whom this stylish evening belongs.

Young Nick Cartell brings a powerful cabaret singer's swoon to saloon songs like "Drinkin' Again," and to duets with Natalie Ellis, whose lovely voice recalls a young Connie Francis. Kristen Drathman stands alone, a glorious amalgam of music-hall feistiness and operatic grace. When she opens up on "I've Got You Under My Skin," she nearly steals

the show from Rusty Ferracane, whose rich, mellow voice is perfect for both the high theatrical stakes of "Witchcraft" and the low pop pleasure of "Something Stupid."

Alan Ruch's swinging three-piece band is exhilaratingly authentic, and Michael Barnard's keen choreography features Fred-and-Ginger-style steps that comment on, rather than overpower, several numbers. Set designer Gregory Jaye, who has proven elsewhere that he can create something out of next to nothing, has crafted a swanky Manhattan nightclub with an appropriately solemn skyline view. Duke Ellington, according to the script, called Sinatra "the ultimate theater." My Way, which is among the top 10 theatrical attractions in the country this year, proves this theory in an homage that's both respectful to the man and wildly entertaining for his fans -- or anyone else who loves good music.

Robert L. Pela
Phoenix News Times

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