Frankly fabulous - Singers put their stamp on Sinatra's indelible songs at Riverside Inn.

BY FLOYD LAWRENC - hal2001@adelphia.net

Published: July 17. 2008

Locally we've had our share of musical tribute shows, productions that feature performers with a talent for imitating the singer being honored. Subjects have included Patsy Cline, Woody Guthrie, Billie Holiday, Johnny Cash, and Janis Joplin, among others.

It's probably understandable, then, that "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" would lead some to expect imitations of the inimitable "Ol' Blue Eyes." Thank goodness that's not the case.

Instead, we're treated to four of Erie's finest singing talents -- Joe Greulich, Colleen Zandbergen, Patrick Thiem and Karen Brennan -- performing about 50 songs associated with Sinatra's career, while putting their own stamp on them.

As they made their initial move onto the stage, each picked up a chorus of "Strangers in the Night," that archetypal doo-be-doo-be-dooo song. I wondered if this was Sinatra's signature song.

By the time the show concluded with a standing ovation for "My Way," I found myself wondering the same thing about many of the songs I'd just heard. After all, the song list included a city medley with "Chicago" and "New York, New York." A summer medley including "Summer Wind." And a "songs for survival" medley with "That's Life."

Well before the concluding "My Way," it dawned on me that, unlike most durable pop singers, Sinatra might be said to have had around a dozen signature songs. I can't name any pop singers who resemble him in this respect.

That's probably why you may find yourself listening to the performers on stage and trying to remember how Sinatra sounded in his treatment of the same songs.

That's precisely how it should be. This is a captivating and immensely entertaining tribute to both Sinatra and the songs

Director Sue Lechner has paced the show well, adding variety with some snappy dance moves. The cast injects humor with flirty behavior. Novelty tunes ("High Hopes," "The Tender Trap") provide a break between lush romantic ballads. Sinatra biography (involving booze and what he called "broads") appears in "One More For the Road," "I Only Have Eyes For You" and many others.

The hard-working cast adroitly alternates between solos, duets and full ensemble numbers. They're very ably backed by musical director Andrew Alesso at piano, Brian Strobel on drums and Mark Miner on bass guitar.

As befits a Sinatra-centered show, the cast is sartorially splendid -- the men in white dinner jackets and the women in cocktail dresses in Act I.

Each voice has its own strengths, and each is wonderfully satisfying, soothing, exciting, playful, or defiant, as demanded by the lyrics.

Amid a setting that suggests a nightclub, the performers occasionally toss out biographical information about Sinatra -- the career-making 1942 performance at Chicago 's Paramount Theater; the recording of more than 1,300 songs; the four marriages and numerous affairs.

We've heard it all before. But we can never hear too much of this wonderful music.


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