Laguna Playhouse
July/August 2009

Orange County Register
by Eric Marchese

Can any live show capture the essence of a show-biz personality so iconic as Frank Sinatra?

David Grapes and Todd Olson probably wondered that when they came up with the idea for "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra." The revue-style show plows through nearly 60 of the songs either popularized by Old Blue Eyes or most closely associated with him.

Whether the concept works depends heavily upon how the show is cast, and Grapes' own eye for talent, as well as his direction and choreography, turn Laguna Playhouse's staging into a thoroughly enjoyable salute not just to Sinatra but to a whole way of life that most people over 50 must look back on with a keen sense of nostalgia.

The performers – Casey Erin Clark, John Fredo, Karen Jefferys and Jason Watson – tell us they're "paying tribute" and "celebrating the legend" of "the voice himself," the man who recorded more than 1,500 songs.

From the great American songbook, the numbers – written by the likes of Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, Jule Styne, Sammy Fain, Cole Porter, John H. Mercer, Walter Donaldson, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Irving Berlin – are silky, sultry and seductive. The connecting text informs us about Sinatra's work habits, versatility, fame and, of course, well-publicized relationships with the lady celebrities of his era.

"My Way" is divided up into thematic segments, between which its quartet of performers delivers entertaining, informative anecdotes about Sinatra and some of his most memorable quotes.

Within this framework, Grapes creates little storylines that seem to emerge naturally from the staging. For example, Jefferys is courted by both Fredo and Watson; Watson wins her over, but Fredo steals her away, then loses her to Watson.

The quartet's members tend to be grouped in pairs – generally, Clark with Fredo and Jefferys with Watson. The same dynamics emerge throughout the evening: Fredo is the veteran who tries to teach the younger Watson a thing or two, while Clark is more sultry and worldly-wise than the fresh-faced, beaming Jefferys. These dynamics not only lend an internal component to the revue; given the nature of the cast's talents, they make perfect sense.

Musical director Vince diMura plays the onstage piano while conducting bassist James Leary and drummer Drew Henwall. DiMura's piano stylings are restrained and classy, and the threesome give every number an easy, unforced swing, pleasing four-part vocal harmonies in the ensemble numbers and no letup in the show's momentum.

Bruce Goodrich's handsome scenic design creates the look of a chic jazz club replete with a well-stocked bar, private booths and, of course, a three-man combo, while Lou Bird's costume designs are silky and elegant.

Whether depicting tap or ballroom, the dance steps devised by Grapes and Fredo (the show's dance captain and assistant choreographer) are a knockout, with the quartet delivering hot yet graceful moves.

Another aspect of the production that seems an organic part of the whole is the problem of what to do with the performers who aren't involved in a song. Grapes has them watch whoever is singing at the moment or relax in a booth or at the bar, just as if they were out on the town.

Fredo's vocals and stage presence are among the evening's strongest and most self-assured. In numbers like "I've Got the World on a String," he shows a cocky self-confidence akin to Sinatra's and a command of the stage as well as an impressive variety of dance skills.

The younger Watson is portrayed as less polished than Fredo, but more lovable because of it. A willowy redhead, Clark's languid style and careful accentuation of lyrics well suits "My Funny Valentine" and her other songs. Younger than Clark, Jefferys has a megawatt smile and disarming demeanor.

Though all four performers excel, there's just no getting around Fredo's resemblance to the genuine article: He has Sinatra's charisma and easygoing charm and, vocally, many of his now-familiar inflections and his smooth, jazz hepcat-style crooning.

Everything about the evening is smooth, sensual and electric – pages taken directly from Sinatra's own playbook.
by Don Grigware

Frank Sinatra has been impersonated in The Rat Pack and in various night club settings. Some actors do him very well, such as Stephen Triffitt in The Rat Pack Live at the Sands; others do not even begin to do him justice as in Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, so maybe it's just as well that we do not get this treatment in My Way at the Laguna Playhouse. Although, somehow, when I saw the graphic advertisement for the show, that's what I expected. No, indeed, this is a revue of his music, neatly packaged and tied up with a bow. Four super-talented artists sing and chat about ole' blue eyes, quoting him a bit and telling a little story now and again about his womanizing or philosophy of fast living.

David Grapes has put together a slick piece that is high on entertainment… The performers are all good...with music that is... inspirational. It lingers for all time. As Sinatra himself once said about the key to his success: SING GOOD SONGS! Of course, the Italian immigrant who became a band singer, movie star and a great legend, was never humble for a second. He hoped that people lived to be 100 and that the last voice they heard would be his.

Moving around the spacious bar set (Bruce Goodrich) with the ease and poise that made Sinatra a demigod, Casey Erin Clark, John Fredo, Karen Jefferys and Jason Watson entertain for 2 hours, singing individually, in couples and all together... favorite standards.

The second act is more reflective than the first with each performer drinking alone: "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry", "One for My Baby" and "It Was a Very Good Year". The last was a favorite of mine at a very early age; I guess I was old before I was young and understood life as Sinatra obviously did when he sang about it.

Costumes here in black (Lou Bird) are elegant, particularly the ladies' dresses with a touch of either blue or mauve. Great musical accompaniment from: Vince Di Mura at the piano, Drew Hemwall on drums and James Leary on bass. They never stop cookin'!

Overall, a great evening full of beautiful music…Go for the foursome: I particularly loved Fredo's terrific tapping and Clark's clean and sultry vocal stylings.

Los Angeles Times
by Charels McNulty

We should all be so lucky to have our earthly legacies so winningly summed up. But then this is a portrait in music that is meant to be adulatory, a thank-you to the man who, as Clark’s father told her, “had sung the soundtrack to his life.”

A hat-tipping finale of “My Way” along with (what else?) a reprise of the theme from “New York, New York” reseals the myth of an undeniable master.

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