Singers showcase Frank Sinatra's famous tunes

Rick Rogers
The Oklahoman
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Frank Sinatra was once asked if he could explain the secret of his success. His answer was simple: sing good songs. He clearly took his own advice. During a career that spanned more than six decades, Sinatra recorded some 1,300 songs, a good percentage of which were, or would become, classics.

David Grapes and Todd Olson culled more than 50 of those songs to create "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra." The musical revue is the final production in Lyric Theatre's 2004 summer season.

Sinatra's music connected most strongly with the generation before mine, yet it's surprising how few of the revue's songs were unfamiliar to me. That says a lot for Sinatra's ability to exert such a strong crossover appeal.

Nick Demos, Lyric's artistic director, has assembled a quartet of young singers for "My Way," a show that lovingly recalls the hits associated with Ol' Blue Eyes along with a few rarities that only Sinatra devotees will likely remember.

"My Way" is set in a fashionable but unnamed nightclub where bartenders break into song, couples flirt with each other and jilted lovers can drown their sorrows at the bar. It's a perfect setting for songs that feature piano (Fran Minarik), bass (John Cole) and drum (Roger Owens) accompaniments.

Renee Anderson, Mandy Jiran, Stuart Landon and Vince Leseney have the task of delivering these musical gems, most of which have been neatly grouped into medleys that embrace love and marriage, losers, Broadway and songs for survivors, among others. Sinatra, one singer explains, had a song for every occasion.

Many begin as solos, with each singer given numerous opportunities to steal the spotlight. With others, the arrangements are structured as duets or quartets, the latter often featuring some impressive close harmony work.

Much like Oklahoma's weather, the mood changes frequently, from poignant ("My Funny Valentine") to upbeat ("Chicago, Chicago") to jazzy ("The Best Is Yet to Come"). Sinatra's signature tunes aren't forgotten and include attractive versions of "Strangers in the Night," "All the Way," "New York, New York" and "My Way."

In between musical numbers, the performers share anecdotes about Sinatra, with topics ranging from his marriages ("He only married four times, but he sure had a lot of dates") to his movie career (an Academy Award winner for "From Here to Eternity") and most of all, to his inimitable way with a song lyric.

And to prevent this revue from turning into the type of "And then I recorded" production, Demos has created some choreographic bits so that his singers can display more than just their vocal versatility.

In "It's All Right With Me," Leseney tries unsuccessfully to steal a kiss from Anderson, while in "I Get a Kick Out of You," Jiran flirts with an unsuspecting piano player (Minarik).

At other times, the singers fight over the microphone, take turns mixing drinks at the bar or segue from a close-harmony selection into dance breaks that allow the instrumentalists to display their musical expertise.

From big band singer to movie star to living legend, Sinatra moved in rarefied circles that included associations with fellow musical legends, movie stars, politicians and presidents.

Through it all, he remained at heart the kid from Hoboken, N.J., and proved the notion that even the son of Italian immigrants could live the great American dream.

"My Way" is an affectionate yet unvarnished tribute to the man who became known as The Chairman of the Board. And its singers, both individually and collectively, pay homage in a way that he would surely appreciate, singing the songs he became identified with in musically stylish yet always intelligent renditions.


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