‘My Way’ a classy tribute to Sinatra
Eastlight show recalls singer’s life, talents

Gary Panetta
Peoria Journal Star
April 17, 2005

PEORIA—Frank Sinatra, whose legacy s now being celebrated in a tribute show by Eastlight Theatre, wasn’t the most admirable person in the world.
But this moody, stormy man was certainly one of the most versatile: a great singer whose distinctive baritone voice was capable of equally distinctive phrasing; a more-than-capable actor deservedly remembered for his silver screen efforts; and a bona fide superstar who embodied an era and virtually invented the concept of “cool.”

“My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” which opened Friday in the East Peoria Community High School auditorium, recalls all these aspects of this great pop artist. The creation of David Grapes and Todd Olson, “My Way” premiered at Tennessee Repertory Theatre in July 2000 and offers up a veritable string of standards that’s really a string of musical pearls: “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “New York, New York,” “The Best is Yet to Come,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” and others.

This is the world of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hart, and Arlen and Mercer – a world Sinatra was uniquely fitted to honor and interpret. Good singers are only as good as the songs they sing, and Sinatra knew a good song when he heard it.

Mercifully, “My Way” doesn’t insist that its four-person cast do it Frank’s way. No silly, literal imitations are called for. It’s enough to evoke the great singer’s spirit, something this nonprofessional cast directed by Kathy Chitwood does quite well.

The youthful Micah Spayer, a Richwoods High School senior, isn’t much older than Sinatra was when he dropped out of high school to sing at weddings or the local union club. Spayer displays both a pleasing voice and stage confidence Sally Hodge’s enthusiasm and feeling for the music is admirable; phrasing and dynamics mean something to this local community theater veteran. Speaking of theatre veterans, John Davis brings vocal power and drama to his efforts, and it’s nice to see him return to the stage after a long absence. Michelle Didesch, finally, proves an able singer who knows how to move and dance.

Sinatra’s classy nightclub world is evoked by lighting and set designer Steve Cordle, whose split-level stage is lined with lights and topped with a live, three-person band. Pianist Diane Hayes, bass player Bruce Lewis and drummer Pat Pautler do a worthy job with some memorable music. Thanks partly to them, “My Way” is anything but a pedestrian affair.

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