Cherry County's 'My Way' Shows
Sinatra Song Stylings Endure

Wednesday, July 31, 2002
By Sue Merrell - The Grand Rapids Press

Welcome to Frank's world -- a world of tuxedoes, beautiful women, curving staircases, intimate lighting, elegant tables for two and lots of wonderful music.

"My Way," a tribute to Frank Sinatra that opened Tuesday at Western Michigan's Cherry County Playhouse in Muskegon, is not about one man's life. Instead, it captures an era and a lifestyle. Or, as the show credits Dean Martin as saying, "It's Frank's world; we just live in it."

A four-person ensemble sings all or part of 56 songs,
a small sampling of the 1,300 songs recorded by Ol' Blue Eyes during a career that spanned 60 years.

The performers don't even try to mimic the legendary crooner. Instead, each adds his or her interpretation to the songs -- which seems only right for a show called "My Way." The songs are presented in an elaborate cabaret setting with a staircase curving around a three-piece combo and little tables with floor-length cloths and shaded lamps adding the ambience of another time. John Fredo… is the most like Sinatra and lends his rich baritone to signature songs such as "Fly Me to the Moon" and "The Lady is a Tramp." His strongest moment is an enthusiastic version of "That's Life."

Dance is part of almost every song, since most of this music set the standard for ballroom dancing and the couples swing, cha-cha and sometimes just hold on tight and sway. Kathy Weese, who sings with soft innocence, dances some of the most athletic numbers and gives a playful interpretation of "All of Me." Ginger Newman has a more sultry voice and squeezes every drop of emotion from heart-tugging ballads such as "My Funny Valentine" and the lesser-known "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry."

Douglas Kampsen adds a bit of comedy to a few numbers but is really at his best on serious pieces such as "Drinkin' Again" and "I'm Gonna Live 'Till I Die." Some of my favorites were ensemble numbers. A city skyline flashed on the back wall behind the set as the four donned black fedoras and gave a big production version of "New York, New York." For "It Was a Very Good Year," each member took a different verse, with Weese starting out with "when I was 17," Kampsen coming in with "when I was 21," Newman taking over for "when I was 35" and Fredo finishing with "the autumn of my life." The four also harmonized beautifully on "My Way" and "I'll Be Seeing You."

Overall, this is a very professional production with good voices, good song selection and excellent accompaniment from the piano, bass and drum trio. Those who were there enjoyed what they heard, sometimes snapping their fingers with the rhythm or interrupting with applause when a favorite song was presented. Even those who aren't particularly Sinatra fans will enjoy an evening in Frank's world.

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