|'My Way,' hits on every side of Frank Sinatra's legendary character, and nearly every song
By Mark Wedel
KALAMAZOO, MI -- Farmers Alley Theatre did it their way.
"My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" opened there Friday night. Sandra Simpson directed; Marie Kerstetter led the trio.
The theatre turned into a swanky club out of 1959 for its annual holiday-time cabaret. One word of advice: Don't go straight for the Jack Daniel's at the lobby bar as you walk in the door, because you'll have cookies topped with ice cream waiting for you at your table.
Frank wouldn't have done this, he would've done that, worn this, drank that -- the show delivers bits of bio and enough on his legendary character to put the songs in just the right context.
Frank's favorite drink was Jack, but he probably wouldn't have drank products of Kentucky with ice cream, just like he'd never wear a tux on Sunday.
The first act was of young Frank, with uplifting songs that took on the world like "New York New York." That was the ice cream set. Frank would've probably waited until intermission, then he'd have downed one and had a glass in hand for the bittersweet songs of his later years.
"Here's to the Losers," a rarely-heard gem, was one of the second-act songs. That and bittersweets like "Drinking Again" and "It Was a Very Good Year" take one to the bottom of the bottle.
Thankfully Sinatra, and the ending moments of this show, gave us "That's Life" and of course "My Way," songs of getting back on one's feet and facing existence with a big glorious yawp, as Walt Whitman might have said -- but a sophisticated, not a barbaric, yawp.
The most revealing bit of narration in the show was this quote from Sinatra: "Being an 18-karat manic depressive, and having lived a life of violent emotional contradictions, I have an over-acute capacity for sadness as well as elation."
That's some deep coo-coo character to replicate via voice. New York actors Laura D'Andre and Garen McRoberts, and Kalamazoo's Amanda Martin and Jeremy Koch did the singing. No one tried to imitate Sinatra, but all did credible era-appropriate vocals.
Martin was the most natural and unforced with a '40s-style voice; put her in a time machine and get her signed with the Dorsey band, please. D'Andre was brassy and the only one to try Sinatra-style jazz phrasing. Both of the men were more musical theatre than swingin', but they kept their end up.
Think of a song recorded by Sinatra; the show touched on it. A life of songs were smashed together in medleys, grouped together in themes and arranged to flow smoothly. It worked, but one might be frustrated to not have some magical moments, like the boy-boy, girl-girl duets on "Moonlight Serenade," go on for a full song.
It was all very fine for an excuse to tip back a few cookies and ice creams to one of the 20th century's greatest vocal entertainers. It will run through the end of December; it was announced that due to nights selling out already, Farmers Alley added a week of shows to the end of the month.
Farmers Alley Does Frank Sinatra 'Their Way'
Review by pridesource.com
It's become a Farmers Alley Theatre tradition to put on a holiday cabaret show, complete with desserts and cocktails at your table.
Choosing a tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes himself, "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra," seems a perfect pairing for this theater, which always reels in tremendous musical talent.
On a Vegas-like night club set - complete with baby grand piano and onstage band - this homage sprinkles plenty of Frank-isms around. But instead of veering into impersonation, a quartet of performers puts its own stamp on more than 50 well-loved Sinatra hits.
The first half breezes through Broadway highlights ("My Funny Valentine," "The Lady is a Tramp") and those from the Silver Screen ("New York, New York" and "I've Got You Under My Skin" among the top of the heap). Audiences get a taste - only a few bars of a song, in some cases. Things slow down a bit after intermission, when the mood darkens for more soulful crooning (more later-life Frank) about boozy nights and romantic heartache. A lesser heard number, "Here's to the Losers," gets a great treatment here.
As the show notes, The Chairman of the Board recorded about 1,300 tunes, working with hit makers like Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Kander and Ebb, Sammy Cahn, and Jimmy Van Heusen, among others. Show co-creators David Grapes and Todd Olson must've had a tough time narrowing it down, but their final selections are smart.
The well-cast foursome takes great care not to impersonate Frank, but leaves their own stamp on his hits. Director/choreographer Sandy Simpson tightens the jazzy footwork to fit the confines of a compact set.
Koch adds laughs and hits on the ladies unabashedly, but he does so with a wink and smile, as if he's intentionally playing it up in homage. He finds a great wingman in NYC actor Garen McRoberts, who adds charm and charisma, plus smooth vocals.
However, the ladies almost out-sing their fellas, with NYC actress Laura D'Andre giving the full jazz and soul phrasing to many numbers. Kalamazoo favorite Amanda Martin looks and sounds the right era, and adds the perfect amount of sweetness to her serenades.
This tribute will appeal to all generations, though it's probably more aimed at mature audiences who have personal memories tied to many of these songs. Younger audiences, however, might recognize more standards than they think, and they'll enjoy the cast's playful banter, and, of course, the music (The first-rate band is Matthew Smalligan on drums, Mark Tomlonson on bass, and pianist/musical director Marie Kerstetter).
W. Douglas Blickle's club set is made more realistic by Jason Frink's lighting and Derek Menchinger's sound design. Black tie costumes up the sophistication factor.
Review: Farmer's Alley offers the perfect Sinatra retrospective with "My Way"
Farmers Alley Theatre is putting on a real '18 karat' production with the cabaret show "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra." With over 50 of ol' Blue Eyes' greatest hits, the show is perfect for anyone, especially if Sinatra is their 'bag.'
Singing the songs of someone with the nickname "The Voice" might seem like a daunting task, but a quartet of Laura D'Andre, Jeremy Koch, Amanda Martin, and Garen McRoberts are more than up to it. At times, in fact, these four fantastic singers seem as though they are tapping into the very soul of Sinatra.
Kicking off the show by singing "Strangers in the Night," the quartet croons to the audience from start to finish. Each member has a unique enough sound to their voice to make the songs their own, but they all also have a real knack for paying true tribute to Sinatra.
Throughout the show, the singers go through many of Sinatra's biggest hits, including "Love and Marriage," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Fly Me to the Moon," "That's Life," "Witchcraft," " New York, New York," and the title song, "My Way." Most of the time, each member of the quarter sings part of a different song in a medley, with all four joining together to sing the finale. Some songs have more duets than solos, however.
No matter the song, each member nails it. D'Andre's voice is extremely sultry and seductive, and Martin perfectly complements that sound with her own sweet, lilting tone. McRoberts' instrument is bright and beautiful, while Koch is the cast member who sounds the most like Sinatra, but pulls off effective tribute without coming across as a gimmicky imitator.
Koch and McRoberts dress the part, each wearing two different suits in classic Sinatra style and D'Andre and Martin both look absolutely stunning in their two dresses each. At various points in the show, the four don the classic Sinatra-style fedoras. Credit costume designer Elaine Kauffman with these effective and classy touches.
Behind the singers, look for a fantastic trio of musicians talented enough to back Sinatra himself. Pianist and musical director Marie Kerstetter, bassist Mark Tomlonson and drummer Matthew Smalligan all do an absolutely amazing job. The set design, by W. Douglas Blickle, is also simply outstanding, with its silver and blue background taking audiences back to a 50s style nightclub, while the ighting (by Jason Frink) accentuates the set design and spotlights the singers to perfection.
Putting on a tribute show to a legend such as Sinatra must be done right, and "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" is the perfect mix of throwback and fresh twist. Included in the price of the ticket are amazing hot cocoa and a dessert choice, between New York style cheesecake and a turtle brownie.
Director Sandra Simpson has concocted a show that is wonderful for all ages, even those too young to know anything about Frank Sinatra. In fact, "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" is the perfect way to introduce newcomers, both young and old, to the music of Sinatra.