Sinatra Tribute, "My Way," takes Rep audiences on a tuneful stroll down memory lane

Beti Trauth
Beacon Correspondent
For: A & E Section, Thursday, October 13, 2005

"My Way," the musical tribute to the legendary (often controversial but undeniably brilliant) singer/actor Frank Sinatra, launched Ferndale Rep's 34th Season last weekend with an evening of timeless, classic songs. The show is a musical revue co-created by David Grapes and Todd Olson that world premiered in 2000; and, its format is a seamless segue of Sinatra hits, tied together with scripted patter and anecdotes about "Old Blue Eyes."

The Rep production is performed by a talented ensemble of four of Humboldt County's most engaging singers, Brad Curtis, Jolene Hayes, Anthony Mankins and Nanette Voss-who are identified in the program simply as: Man 1, Woman 1, Man 2, and Woman 2.

This "generic" naming of the cast keeps the focus on Sinatra's persona, even as the singer/actors individually and collectively step into the spotlight to perform dozens of the songs so closely associated with him during his illustrious career.

So, it's their challenge to be entertainers in their own right, even as they serve as shadow "interpreters" of the Sinatra-related material. And, although Hayes and Mankins are strong performers, Curtis and Voss stand out as they consistently "nail" their moments, both vocally and with some nifty footwork.

Curtis is also the main "commentator" for the show, a polished spokesman who ties it together. He also comes the closest to delivering a vocal approach that is more relaxed "nightclub," and not musical theater.

Here are some of the 59 Sinatra favorites-written by a wide range of famous composers-that are included in the score: Strangers in the Night; High Hopes; My Funny Valentine; Let's Face the Music and Dance; It's All Right With Me; I Love Paris; Chicago, Chicago; Love and Marriage; That Old Black Magic; The Lady is a Tramp; All The Way; Fly Me To The Moon; New York, New York; and (of course) My Way.

Skillfully accompanying the singers throughout their near-marathon series of solos and medleys, is a live trio of accomplished musicians: Musical Director & Conductor, Justin Ross, on keyboards; Bill Andrews on stand-up string bass; and Bob Higgons on drums.

The band plays seated on the middle of a raised platform that represents the upper level of the intimate bar & lounge nightclub set cleverly designed by Daniel Lawrence. The band hovers above and behind a floor level bar (with stools) on the audience's left; and the downstage area is the nightclub's stage.

To the right, Lawrence has constructed a flashy entrance, complete with steps and rounded columns, for the singers to use for making a dramatic entrance, or for "leaning" on to underscore a moody ballad.

The nightclub setting captures the essence of what Sinatra was most closely associated with as an entertainer-a Las Vegas "saloon singer" who was most at home where there were cigarettes, booze and broads.

But, as we know, he more than transcended that as an elegant song stylist of impeccable pitch, taste and choice of material that was first performed live with big bands, and later captured on records and film scores.

"My Way" is a fitting tribute indeed to a timeless musical legend who was known as "The Voice," a man who set the gold standard for excellence as a vocalist-a consummate (non-electronically manipulated) singer of songs who has left the world a legacy of craftsmanship that will seldom be reached again.

But, that's what has obviously inspired all of the singers and musicians who are lucky enough to be part of this Sinatra tribute at The Rep. And, with director Desmond Moseley at the helm, the show has come together as a completely entertaining production.

Also playing their parts to make it all happen are these essential artistic contributors: Vocal Coach, Elisa Woodruff; Choreographers, Juliana Dixon & Steve McDonald; Costume Designer, Dianna Thiel; Lighting Designer, Emily Blanche; Sound Designer, Gabriel Groom; and Scenic Painter, Bruce Keller.

Ferndale Rep celebrates 34 years of quality Humboldt County Theatre with this thoroughly entertaining production; and if you love good music (and Frank Sinatra), this is definitely the show for you!

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