Easy to drink in Sinatra revue ‘My Way'

August 20, 2010

By Bob Abelman - News-Herald.com

David Grapes and Todd Olson's tribute to Frank Sinatra, on stage at the Rabbit Run Theater in Madison Township, is a highball of a musical revue. Its top-shelf stuff, served in a tall glass with a splash of class befitting the man and his music.

More than 50 tunes from the vast Sinatra songbook, spanning his early recording days, his films and his concerts, are performed in medley by two men and two women in formal wear. The songs, placed in context with a modicum of biographical banter, are performed in a romantic, blue-hued nightclub setting complete with bar, three-piece band and intimate couples-only tables.

The show is inebriating — a thoroughly enjoyable late-summer diversion — but the title, "My Way," is a misnomer. There is no way that "My Way" can be done Sinatra's way.

One of the things that defined Sinatra and earned him the moniker "The Voice" was that there was no other voice like his voice.

Smooth, effortless and renowned for its impeccable phrasing, Sinatra's approach to music transitioned the innocent and idealistic crooning of the 1940s to the jazzy, alcohol-enabled sophistication of the 1950s. Sinatra single-handedly moved the music scene from the big band dance hall to the Vegas cocktail lounge and nightclub, stylistically as well as geographically.

When asked about the secret to his success, Sinatra replied "I sing good songs." "My Way" is all about the songs.

These are brilliant compositions by the world's most legendary tunesmiths, including Sammy Cahn, Cole Porter and John H. Mercer. Many were written specifically for Sinatra and are so good they seem to have been touched by the music gods — a holy merger of the perfect lyric with the ideal melody, sung with just the right inflection.

When Sinatra sang "It's quarter to three/There's no one in the place 'cept you and me/So set 'em up Joe/I got a little story I think you oughta know/We're drinking my friend/To the end of a brief episode/So make it one for my baby/And one more for the road," even the gods wept.

Thankfully, under Brint Learned's astute direction, none of the four talented performers in this Rabbit Run production attempts to "do" Sinatra, for Sinatra is inimitable. The best that can be hoped for is a reflection of his style in this showcase.

This is most certainly achieved.

Brian Altman, Nichole Groah, Lindsey Sandham and James Penca capture Sinatra's cool sophistication. They do so in their approach to his songs and in their subtle physicality on stage, seductively crisscrossing paths as they segue from one song to the next like strangers in the night. Penca carries it off best in the actual delivery of the songs. Although the youngest of the four 20- to 30-somethings, he seems to feel the music and its message, as did Sinatra, and the emotion comes across in his beautiful voice and his demeanor.

Fortunately, they are all marvelous performers. Altman's sensuous tenor is an absolute pleasure to listen to, as is Sandham's ingénuous soprano and Groah's torch-song sensibilities.

The show's best musical moments come during the four-part harmony arrangements of Sinatra solo numbers, where each voice blends beautifully with the others and with the orchestrations. The phenomenal band consists of John Kock on bass, William Wedmedyk on drums and, on piano, the musical director, Edward Leonard.

… recommended to romantics of any age. Everyone should imbibe.

August 20, 2010

Frankie would love Rabbit Run’s ‘My Way’

By ROGER SMITH -For the Star Beacon Star Beacon

A good theater summer season is coming to an end at Rabbit Run Theater on Chapel Road with a production that should light up many memories for patrons.

“My Way” is a musical tribute to Frank Sinatra, Old Blue Eyes himself.  Fifty-eight of his 1,300 songs are sung by four vocalists/actors during the 2 1/4-hour show.

The eye-catching set for this production is one that Frank would have appreciated: a cocktail lounge.  He liked to raise a glass in a toast to any and all of his friends or acquaintances who were within earshot. The instrumental music is provided by one of the best jazz trios one can hear.  The costumes are lounge appropriate.  

… “My Way” is a crowd pleaser.  Those who have frequented Rabbit Run Theater this summer are familiar with the vocal talents of James Penca as Man 2.  This young man sang the roles of Joseph and of Fabrizio in earlier productions in the season.  His vocal range is large, and the quality of his voice will take him far.  Lindsay Sandham (Woman 2) matched the quality of Penca’s voice - note for note.  She was delightful to hear and see in her role.  

Brian Altman, no stranger to Ashtabula and Lake county stages, sang the role of Man 1.  Altman can always be counted on for a strong performance in any show in which he is involved.  “My Way” is no exception; Altman’s performance was up to his usual professional standard.

Production photographs by Kathy Sandham

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