Stage Review: PMT revue captures Sinatra's style

John Hayes
Post-Gazette Staff

Saturday, March 08, 2003

You can't go wrong with good material. In a long and sometimes infamous career, Frank Sinatra recorded some 1,300 songs. Many of them became instant classics; all of them bristled with Sinatra's distinctive style and attitude.

"My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" is a four-person revue directed and choreographed for Pittsburgh Musical Theater by Gavan Pamer. Writers David Grapes and Todd Olson were prescient enough to keep the show from looking and sounding like a Sinatra impersonation act. Instead, it comes off as a well-conceived two-act tribute to the man and nearly 60 of his songs.

With its small cast and obvious appeal, "My Way" is a good choice for the cash-strapped theater company. And with its large, elevated stage and comfortable seating, the Canterbury Dinner Theatre is an ideal place to stage it.

Pamer looks handsome in a tux, and most of his choreography works within the context of the arrangements. PMT veteran Peggy Taphorn absolutely kills in an evening gown and is the cast member most comfortable with cabaret singing. Mark Turner slicks on the attitude like hair mousse, and Christina L. Sivrich sounds sweet on tender tunes. Pianist and musical director Karen Dryer also moves the music beyond the pages, performing with a jazz band that deserves more time together.

After the opening-night show, Dryer played while students from the Rauh Conservatory sang show tunes.


Pittsburgh Musical Theater salutes Sinatra well with 'My Way'

Alice T. Carter
TRIBUNE-REVIEW THEATER CRITIC
Wednesday, March 5, 2003

The romantic in me has long fantasized about legendary days gone by when nightspots offered slick, tuneful revues and cabaret shows while whiffs of cigarette smoke drifted through the air and patrons sipped cocktails at tiny candlelit tables.

At the Pittsburgh Musical Theater production of "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" that opened at Canterbury Dinner Theatre last Friday, the smoky atmosphere billows from environmentally safer machines, and the patrons are more likely to be sipping beer, wine or coffee.

Otherwise, the circumstances come close to fulfilling my fantasy with a well-produced, reasonably slick show that features a rich medley of songs that earned the right to be called old-fashioned romantic classics. They're performed by a quartet of pleasantly tuneful and attractive singers bent on giving the patrons their money's worth.

Wisely, "My Way" doesn't attempt or aspire to revive or impersonate Old Blue Eyes. Nobody could caress the notes and emotions of "Witchcraft," "You Go to My Head" or "One for My Baby" the way he did.

Instead, its creators, David Grapes and Todd Olson, remind us of the essence of Sinatra by grouping bits of nearly 60 of his signature songs in medleys. Whether you remember him best as a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn or a king (recall that he sang those lyrics in "That's Life") or -- horrors -- don't know who Sinatra was, this revue is a nostalgic ramble through a golden age when lyrics were lyrical, the music was smooth, and harmony and sentiment were not yet taboo.

There's a minimal but attractive nightclub setting of bar, chairs and tiny round table. A combo of accompanists -- bassist Paul Thompson, percussionist P.J. Gatch and pianist and musical director Karen Dryer -- appear onstage.

The show's minor organizing concept is four people who meet in a bar and through song and flirtation find their way into paired relationships by the end of the performance.

Mark Turner plays the youthful, high-spirited but awkward young man who romances Christina L. Sivrich's giggly, cuddly-cute ingenue. Playing the more mature and world-wise pair are a grounded, restrained Gavan Pamer and Peggy Taphorn as the leggy, lively sophisticated redhead.

Sinatra wanted to be remembered as a guy who brought a unique style to singing. And it's good for those who sing songs as closely identified with him as "I've Got the World on a String," "Let's Get Away from It All," "Summer Wind" or "The Best Is Yet to Come" to remember that Sinatra didn't use the songs to showcase his voice. He used his voice in service to the story he was telling through the song.

… all four of these singers delight either on solos such as Pamer on "Young at Heart," Sivrich on "The Best Is Yet to Come" or Taphorn on "This Is All I Ask"; when paired as Sivrich and Turner are on "Love and Marriage"; with all four singing "Dream"; or "That's Life" with Pamer as soloist accompanied by the others as a backup trio.

Pamer and Taphorn have a nice little dance on "I've Got You Under My Skin," and Pamer offers a gentle tap solo on "I've Got the World on a String."

Alternately upbeat, regretful, breezy, dejected, silly and serious, this musical showcase offers an evening of "That Old Black Magic" that conjures up past memories of Sinatra and a vital evening of polished live entertainment.

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