‘My Way’ an entertaining tribute to Sinatra’s songs

Clark Groome
June 3, 2011

Herbert, Prisco, Mooney, Clemons-Hopkins: Not just the music, but the genre.

Four vocalists sing 53 of the more than 1,300 songs recorded by Frank Sinatra in “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra.”

Fifty seven of the more than 1,300 songs Frank Sinatra recorded make up “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra.” They had me at hello. Blessedly David Grapes and Todd Olson’s four-character revue relies on the music, with only occasional, appropriate and, most importantly, short comments by the singers.

“My Way,” which is being presented through July 3 at the Walnut Theatre Company’s Independence Studio on 3, confirms beyond any doubt the truth of Old Blue Eyes’ explanation of his success: “Sing good songs.”

The show itself is really a series of medleys, some of them topical. The first act ends with songs about places Sinatra loved: “I Love Paris,” “My Kind of Town,” “South of the Border,” “Chicago,” ”L.A. is My Lady” and “New York, New York” among them.

There’s a moon medley that includes “I Only Have Eyes for You,” Dream,” “Moonlight Serenade” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” a song used to wake up the Apollo 11 astronauts on the world’s maiden landing on the moon.

The second act begins with a rather contemplative and introspective group of saloon songs: “Drinking Again,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears out to Dry,” “It Was a Very Good Year” and “One for My Baby.”

Fran Prisco - Walnut Street Theatre My Way Director and Actor

Director Fran Prisco is the first among equals in the four-member cast. His colleagues are Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Danielle Herbert and Ellie Mooney. While most of the first act is made up of solos or

duets, the second uses the four together for most of the songs.

While not the orchestras led by Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins or Billy May, musical director and pianist Alex Bechtel and bass player Andrew Nelson supplied strong, swinging accompaniment for the quartet of singers.

Set designer Andrew Thompson turned the Walnut’s small studio space into a quasi-cabaret to good effect, all nicely lighted by Shelley Hicklin.

Duke Ellington said that Sinatra was “the ultimate theater.” While “My Way” doesn’t quite rise to that level, it is a very good representation of what the famous Chairman of the Board was all about, and that was mostly the songs he sang.

Sinatra apparently made one toast when called on to do so. He said, “May you live to be 100, and may the last voice you hear be mine.” Were that the case, we would be very lucky indeed.


‘My Way’: Sinatra tribute at Walnut’s Studio 3

Jackie Atkins
May 14, 2011

My Way is as much of a tribute to Frank Sinatra’s crowd and its ambience as it is to Old Blue Eyes himself. If you relish those folks and those times, here’s a chance to renew old acquaintances.

My Way: A Musical Tribute To Frank Sinatra. Directed by Fran Prisco; choreography by Ellie Mooney. Through July 3, 2011 at Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio 3, 825 Walnut St. (215) 574-3550 or www.walnutStreetTheatre.org.

Old Blue Eyes is back

A lovely lady sat beside me at My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra. She and her husband of 65 years knew, listened to and idolized Sinatra in the 1940s, when they were sweethearts at Bartram High School, then young marrieds and ultimately suburban parents. “There’ll never be another Frank Sinatra,” the woman told me. “Nowadays it’s so different.”

I suppose so. Nor will there ever be another Elvis or Beatles or Lady GaGa. But in this walk down memory lane, the Walnut’s Independence Studio 3 has hewed to the spirits of the times. Upon entering the third floor lobby, you find yourself in a nightclub with a standing full-order bar. With my customary Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio in hand, I repaired to the theater, only to find an amazing recreation of Philadelphia’s legendary old nightclub, the Latin Casino.

As a bass and piano played (by Andrew Nelson and Alex Bechtel, respectively), I sensed excitement, and I hadn’t sipped my wine yet. So much for getting me “In the Mood.”

Nightclub king

Of course, like my seatmate, I’m easily hooked on this sort of nostalgia. My uncle was Arnold Orsatti, owner of The Pump Room in Philadelphia and Tony Mart’s in Somers Point, N.J. I spent my summer months toggling between Cape May and Ocean City, learning how to pour tea at the Chalfont and shimmy with Pearl Bailey at the Bay Shore in Somers Point (another one of my uncle’s establishments). My uncle’s discothèque crowds of the ’70s, as it turned out, were a last of a dying breed. I was lucky to witness their beautiful sunset.

These were Frank’s Sinatra’s people, and I liked them. My Way is as much of a tribute to this crowd as it is to Old Blue Eyes. These folks wore their hearts on their sleeves and spoke what was on their minds. Sinatra’s songs expressed the belief that life was a game and, “if you’re riding high in April and shot down in May…you pick yourself up and get back in the race.”

Remember Eartha Kitt?

The cast of seasoned actors captures the chic of the lyrics and the insolence of Sinatra’s manner perfectly, and while they’re at it manage to belt out some mean songs in true casino tradition. It’s not just their singing you relish but the characters they project and the genre they recreate.

Carl Clemons-Hopkins, tall muscular and svelte, brings elegance and refinement to all his melodies as he does some depth-defying Chairman of the Board flipping of his hat. Danielle Herbert brings a sexy sultriness to her renditions, complete with Eartha Kitt purring and eye-flapping. Ellie Mooney plays the gamine femme whose wiry body can wrap around any frame and drink down all your expensive champagne. And if you close your eyes when Fran Prisco smacks out “One for My Baby,” you’ll think “The Voice” is holding court again.


MY WAY: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO FRANK SINATRA

Lila Achuff
StagePartners.org
May 8, 2011

Where have all the crooners gone? Fortunately, if you can find your way to the Walnut Street Theatre, and I strongly suggest that you do, upstairs (Independence Studio on 3) in a cozy-ish intimate setting (sort of) you will be treated to the music and songs of one of the most famous crooners of the 20th century, Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), often referred to as Ol’ Blue Eyes. This musical revue is performed by a very talented quartet: Fran Prisco (director), Danielle Herbert, Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Ellie Mooney (choreographer). And bringing it all together, Andrew Nelson (bass player) and Alex Bechtel (pianist and music director).

You may be up for hearing more than 1300 songs for which Sinatra was famous, however, you get to enjoy only 57 of them in this 1950’s nightclub setting. Sounds like a lot, but you’ll be disappointed when they’re done. I didn’t see any nodding heads (and I looked too!) BTW, before you go and just for a challenge, make note of how many Sinatra songs you know from memory. Then compare your list to the one in the Playbill. You’ll recognize most of them, I’m sure. BTW, this show is not just for the “elders”; it also appeals to a younger generation. Just think, WE CAN ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND THE WORDS CLEARLY!

And, given the opportunity, most of us even remember them and can sing along! In fact, I would have preferred to have seen the performers have more connection with the audience. We’re so close! It’s a no-brainer!

The sexy, sultry Danielle, with the seductive voice, sang with her entire being. Every inch of her was into each song. Even her facial expressions! Absolutely incredible! Her “shtick” was so recognizable to me but I couldn’t recall where I had seen her before. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, she reminded me afterwards. (Professionally speaking, Danielle, I’d like to follow you along your career path. Keep me posted.) Ellie is cute, bubbly and endearing. Fran … charming and a rather good dancer. Carl … sophisticated, handsome, smooth. Throughout the show, our foursome delights us with bits of bio info regarding Sinatra, along with his likes, dislikes, gossipy “stuff”, etc., etc.

All in all, I promise you a very pleasant evening. “I’ll Be Seeing You …”
Until the next show…


Sinatra's songs are the stars in 'My Way'

By Toby Zinman
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Saturday May 7, 2011

More nightclub show than theater, My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra is two hours of pure entertainment. There are no big thoughts to think, no complex plot to follow. Just a slew of great songs, sung by four talented performers, accompanied by terrific musicians, with a bar in the lobby and a vaguely loungey atmosphere in the audience seating. What's not to enjoy?

When asked what the key to his success was, Ol' Blue Eyes replied, "Sing good songs." Sinatra recorded 1,300 - most of them better than good. Although the My Way cast members pay tribute to the famous style - the rakish hat, the jacket slung over a shoulder - they don't try to imitate him.

Fran Prisco directs with a sure sense of how to create glitzy show biz on the small stage of the Walnut's Independence Studio on 3.

The four singers are appealingly different types. Prisco is the white guy: A short, suave (this should probably be pronounced "swayve") pro who can make his lines sound like effortless ad libs and knows how to belt out a song. Carl Clemons-Hopkins is the black guy: Young, very tall (there's a running gag about the height of the mike), with a smooth, sexy style. 

The two women are also opposites: Danielle Herbert is exotic-looking, voluptuous, with lots of attitude; Ellie Mooney is a pale, slim blond, with big eyes and a turned-up nose, comedically adorable.

However, it's the songs that are the stars. They begin with "Strangers in the Night" and end with "I'll Be Seeing You."

Everybody gets a showcase: Clemons-Hopkins in "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die," Herbert in "You're Cheating Yourself," Mooney in "South of the Border," and Prisco in "One for the Road." The group numbers, "A Very Good Year" and "I Only Have Eyes for You," are impressive. The first-act finale, "New York, New York" is an old-school knockout. And the title song, "My Way," is sung with patriotic fervor by the full cast.

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