Civic cast superb in Sinatra tribute

Roger McBain

Courier & Press staff writer
November 23, 2003

Asked to share the secret of his stardom, Frank Sinatra reportedly replied, "Sing

good songs." He didn't need to add, of course, "and have the talent to do them well." Evansville Civic Theatre can boast an abundance of both ingredients in its community theater production of "My Way," a music tribute to Sinatra.

Backed by a polished three-piece stage band, John Michael O'Leary, Annette Gries, Brian Scudder and Molly Hodgen crooned, lilted and harmonized through five decades of Sinatra favorites and lesser-known titles in a smooth, confident, classy two-hour opening performance, Friday, playing to a full house. They paused, along the way, to walk the audience through a conversational narrative of biographical facts, anecdotes and quotes from the legendary singer from Hoboken, N.J.

Directed by Dick Engbers, with music direction by Terry Becker and choreography by Ricki Smith Newman, the show played like an intimate engagement in a swanky after-hours club. Dressed elegantly in classic formal wear, the instrumentalists and singers fit right into the art deco cocktail lounge scenic designer Charles Julius created on Civic's proscenium.

The show includes nearly five dozen of the more than 1,300 songs Sinatra recorded in a career that began in the late 1930s and ran into the early 1990s. They include titles by Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Jule Styne, Jimmy Van Heusen, Glenn Miller, Cy Coleman and a score of other composers and lyricists.

Titles included "The Way You Look Tonight," "All of Me," "Makin' Whoopee," "My Funny Valentine," "Chicago, Chicago," "New York, New York," "That Old Black Magic" "I've Got You Under My Skin," "It Was a Very Good Year," "Fly Me to the Moon" and dozens of others.

In solos, duets and full harmonies, the singers presented "Strangers in the Night," "The Lady is A Tramp" "Love and Marriage," "All the Way" and "My Way" in full, but most of the show's songs came abbreviated, in themed medley arrangements.

Thank the men who conceived the show, David Grapes and Todd Olson, for avoiding the pitfall of too many medleys, which frustrate listeners by serving up excerpts like headlines, moving on without ever telling the story. This show's compilations are Reader's Digest medleys, not headline services.

The singers' voices complemented one another's nicely. While the goal was never to impersonate, O'Leary's performance deftly reflected the stylings and timbre of Sinatra's familiar stylings of "That's Life," "My Way," and "One for My Baby."

Gries, paired with O'Leary as the show's more mature couple, came through with strongest, most expressive vocals in the show, and a glowing, sometimes smoldering stage presence. Hodgen sparkled, as well, with full, ringing vocals, a 1,000-watt smile and sure polished movement in her dance scenes with Scudder, her partner in the show's young couple.

Scudder was deft on his feet, as well, particularly in a nice soft-shoe number. His voice was thin in spots, but with a clear, clean, youthful sound that complemented the others. It all came together in a ringing tribute to an American legend.



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