The Many Joys of Doing It Sinatra’s Way

The Southampton Press
Jun 28, 2007

Calling all nostalgia nuts (like me), or those whose memory stretches back before the Grateful Dead, or anyone with a ripple of romance dancing on the rhythm of his or her heart.

“My Way,” the affectionate and sensible revue of 56—count ‘em--56 of Frank Sinatra’s hits, now occupying the stage of the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport in a warm, melodious fashion, is a sure highway to a time long passed, but not regretted.

Four personable singers, a glorious set by Kelly Tighe that evokes every chandelier-and-sconce outfitted night club you ever visited (if you were lucky) or saw in a black and white film from the 1940s (if you have good taste), and lighting with generous grace by Marcia Medeira conspire with a swinging trio led by pianist/musical director Frank Spitznagel to bring back, if not the man, the melodies upon which Ol’ Blue Eyes put his stamp of improvement.

All of this is given a classy look, through the intelligent and inventive choreography of director Keith Andrews, who wraps it all into a dream of a memory. Who could ask for much more than that in these hard-edged, over- amplified times?

Okay: As usual at the Gateway, the sound board operator could use a hearing aid. But after the first deafening moments, it’s possible to accommodate it. Just don’t try to talk to someone after the show until your ears readjust to normal human volume.

And to be absolutely honest, of the four players, only Jay Montgomery and Ryan Kelly find a way to caress and live the lyrics the way The Voice did, and only Jay Montgomery conveys the easy, laid back style and persona of Sinatra. But that doesn’t threaten the fun; it merely accentuates it, for Worth Williams is adorable and Pat McRoberts—though he does oversell on occasion—is an embraceable performer. And when they all join in the spate of close, fourpart harmonies (particularly in “Indian Summer”) they shine brightly.

What’s most important is the nearly constant flow of music, from the opening “Strangers in the Night” to the touching, concluding, “I’ll be Seeing You,” with scores in between. And yes, “New York New York” gets not one, but two billings.

The first act busies itself, for the most part, with early Sinatra, and it’s pleasant and uplifting. But it’s the second act that has the meat and potatoes and martinis and champagne, and the songs of the Sinatra who returned in a kind of triumph after a stint at acting, and after Elvis and his progeny had taken over the teenage pop population who had once drowned out Frank with their unabated screams.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t rewards aplenty in the first act. Ms. Kelly delivers a smoky “My Funny Valentine” in the show music section; Ms. Williams does a perky “It’s All Right With Me,” and Mr. McRoberts joins Mr. Montgomery for a socko “Summer Wind.” And the company delivery of “All the Way,” which closes the act, is downright thrilling, despite the sappy lyrics about chewing up and spitting out.

Ah, but the second act. Even Marianne Dominy’s costumes, forgettable in the first act, have the right sophisticated touch. And Todd Olson’s very, very slender book, which unfortunately relies heavily on reverent deliveries of Sinatra sayings—which will never threaten those of Oscar Wilde in quotation collections—gets with it with comments on the Sinatra parade of wives and lovers and the omnipresent glass of Jack Daniels.

And here, memories cascade like the beads in the chandeliers. Ms. Kelly’s delivery of “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” is heartrending, followed immediately by Mr. Montgomery, leaning on the bar and crooning “One For My Baby.” Mr. McRoberts eases through “Nice and Easy,” Ms. Williams trills a cheery “You Go to My Head” and the quartet delivers a close harmony, richly hued medley of “Wave,” “Dream” and “Moonlight Serenade.”

The huge number, the one that had the audience swaying and clapping last Friday was ‘That’s Life”, or more accurately, “THAT’S LIFE!” It was the highest spirited outpouring of a bursting bag of melody that also included some memory raising songs that have slipped through the cracks of repetition. “Something Stupid,” for instance. And most of all, to this old nostalgia buff, Gordon Jenkins’s gem that Sinatra recorded in 1965 like nobody else ever did or ever would. The lyrics, feelingly captured by the quartet in Bellport, just keep ringing and ringing: Wonderful words and a melody that fits them as if they were attached at the heart—you remember: “Beautiful girl, walk a little slower when you walk by me Lingering sunset, stay a little longer with the lonely sea… Wandering rainbows, leave a bit of color for my heart to own Stars in the sky, make my wish come true Before the night has flown And let the music play as long as there’s a song to sing Then I will stay younger than spring.” Don’t remember it? Never heard it? Then go to the Gateway, and let “My Way” wash over you for a couple of hours. I guarantee that you’ll be singing it in the car on the way home too.

“My Way” continues at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, 20 minutes west of Westhampton, every night except Monday and in several weekly matinees through July 8. The box office number is 286-1133. 

Old Blue Eyes, as seen by eight eyes

June 26, 2007

Early on, we're informed that Frank Sinatra recorded more than 1,300 songs. "Tonight we're going to sing them all," says one singer in the coupled quartet at Gateway Playhouse. It's a joke, of course. But we do get 58 of the classics Sinatra made his own, packed within a two-hour time capsule without any of these they-don't-write-'em-like-that-anymore gems getting the bum's rush.

"My Way," a musical genuflection to "Old Blue Eyes," premiered two years after his death in 1998. It's aptly billed as a tribute, not an imitation. That would be sacrilegious. And futile. Individually and collectively, each singer - designated as Man #1 and 2 and Woman #1 and 2 - interprets Sinatra's take on each song, while keeping them within memory's earshot of "his way."

The setting is a posh nightclub, fitting for the master "saloon singer," though his venues were more often concert halls. Kelly Tighe's art deco set recalls the Rainbow Room in a previous incarnation, with teardrop chandeliers and a rounded staircase leading down from elevator doors that frame separate grand entrances by Ryan Kelly, Miss Staten Island 2002, and Worth Williams, a Gateway debutante.

Neither of their voices overpower the songs, which is a good thing, since the idea is to evoke Frank - even when it's a "dame" singing "The Way You Look Tonight" or "My Funny Valentine."

McRoberts comes closest to Sinatra's offhand style, which belied his impeccable craftsmanship, on such virile turns as "Drinkin' Again" and "I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die."

But the most inventive interpretations are collaborative ones, where the three-piece jazz combo, led by Frank Spitznagel, bridges the handoffs. (Sinatra himself would approve, we suspect.)

Among these are "Something Stupid" as a duet (McRoberts and Kelly) and my favorite, "It Was a Very Good Year" as a sequential girl-boy-girl-boy quartet, and the show's bookends, "Strangers in the Night" and the Sinatra-biographic title song.

As Man # 1 says, quoting Sinatra on the secret to his success: "Sing good songs."

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