'My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra' is a rousing tribute to 'Ol' Blue Eyes'

By Nancy Wellard
Special to the Island-Packet
July 12, 2018
Read at BW

The music and dancing and positive energy never stopped last Tuesday evening on stage at the Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute's opening night presentation of "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra."

The fresh and energetic production at the Hilton Head Preparatory School's Main Street Theatre started on a high which continued through the night. Far more than a musical tribute, it was a musical revue, really.

The design of the evening put in place a set of circumstances which would showcase the featured songs which were either made famous by Ol' Blue Eyes, or which have been associated with him.

Just after the first few musical notes and shortly after we had taken advantage of our early sightings of the stage, the set, and the band, we focused, fully on the cast of four—youthful, talented, and energetic New York professional performers who deliver, impressively, through the power packed evening.

Take in the performances of Zachary Bigelow, who notably delivers a solid, stylish musical presence; Apryl Higgins whose presence and expression simply lights up the stage; Bessie Smith's charismatic, rich voice and easy delivery; and Jonmichael Tarleton's tuneful singing, athletic strutting and his flying splits.

I think I counted 53 well sung Sinatra songs presented on Tuesday night, and they filled our evening to the brim. First, think the American Songbook, then more broadly, think jazz, swing, pop, even easy listening. The actors and musicians gave us all of that and more. There was just a taste, but a generous taste, of the details in the life of this remarkable polymath – a band singer, a movie star, a legend. We were, through the night, reminded of the details of Sinatra's remarkable contribution to music during his over six-decade career.

The songs were artfully arranged in a kind of thematic, medley format, which loosely called to mind seasons, love, relationships, entertainment or simply the man, Sinatra. There were brief kind-of shared narratives and anecdotes by the performers, which, by the way, enriched our enjoyment of the music and made even more apparent the incredible impact of his presence and performances on the lives of so many, for so long.

Look forward especially to Summer Wind, Only Have Eyes for You, The Good Life, It was a very Good Year, Young at Heart, That's Life, the theme from New York, New York, Fly Me to the Moon, All of Me, I've Got You Under My Skin, My Funny Valentine, Something Stupid and Strangers in the Night...and the list goes on.

The stage at Main Street was set to suggest a kind of tony, trendy, top drawer jazz club and it provided the perfect backdrop to the performances, as the cast -- appropriately styled and costumed in tuxedoes, furs, silk, high heels and glitz of the 50's -- delivered the carefully selected and artfully connected songs and dances.

Now would be the perfect time to speak a little more about the dancing, which was top notch. There were tangos and rumbas and fox trots and soft shoes and jitterbug, through the night. A special element in the impressive dance department came by way of a tap dancing routine staged by Bigelow and Tarleton. What amazing moves, what great fun.

The stars of our musical revue were supported by the musical directions of New York's Cody Dry, who saw to the smooth running of the show from his seat at the piano bench at the rear of the stage.

Opposite him at the other corner were Nils Egerstrand who gifted us as he played a shiny upright bass and Brian Ganch who kept the rhythm section going behind his slick set of drums.

"My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra," created by David Grapes and Todd Olson, with a book by Todd Olson, was designed especially for the Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute and the Hilton Head audience. Very much like SSTI's productions of "Always...Patsy Cline" and "Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical," it was directed and choreographed impressively by Broadway's Joe Barros.

Barros, you'll remember, is the New York based Broadway and Off- Broadway director and choreographer who focuses much of his attention on the development of new work. That said, I must tell you that you'll also see his magic touch in the wrap up to the SSTI 's musical season with "Tuck Everlasting".

"My Way" is artistically produced, brilliantly presented, wonderfully entertaining and a perfectly fitting celebration of the amazing man and his music.

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