Over 50 gems from the Great American Songbook are showcased in the season opening production of My Way, A Tribute to the Music of Frank Sinatra at the Covedale Theater. Featuring an ensemble cast of three men and three women, this revue very loosely depicts the life, legend and, mostly, the music of one of the greatest American singers of popular music from the Big Band Era through the 1980’s.
Set in a night club with an elevated stage in the middle (designed by Brett Bowling), the ensemble of Emily Carroll-Martin, Savannah Boyd, Ashley Olivia Morton, Matt Dentino, Elliott Handkins and Donald Washington opens the show with the rousing “Change Partners,” including ballroom dancing by all choreographed by Renee Stoltzfus. The songs are categorized and roughly follow the order of Sinatra’s recordings. Cast members add some comments about Sinatra himself or his career as the show progresses but there is no real plot line.
With the men dressed in white tuxedos and the women in party dresses, the first act covers categories of songs including favorites, Broadway, cities, young love, summer and love and marriage. Most of the songs in the first act are up-tempo in keeping with his early singing style with a few ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” by Rodgers and Hart. The ensemble, directed by Douglas Berlon, sings and dances in a variety of combinations including solos, duets, trios, quartets and a full chorus. As the song implies, the cast changes partners with some songs sung as couples while others feature the men or the women only.
The songs in the first act reflect some of the best composers of the day including Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Jimmy Van Heusen, etc. In the segment “summer”, a highlight is the Johnny Mercer reworked version of a German song call “Summer Wind”. In the “cities” portion, we hear “I Love Paris” from Cole Porter’s Can-Can and two songs from the Windy City including “Chicago (that toddling town)” and “My Kind of Town” from the Rat Pack movie Robin and the 7 Hoods. The opening act ends with a good choral rendition of Van Heusen’s classic All the Way. As a surprise, Executive Artistic Director Tim Perrino sang as well.
The ensemble in general sang and danced well and exuded good personality and bonhomie, especially in the first act. The most “Sinatra-esque” performer is veteran Dentino who, while not trying to mimic Sinatra, comes the closest to representing the crooner’s singing style.
The second act reflects Sinatra‘s singing transformation as his voice became huskier and his songs became more introspective and world-weary. By his definition, he became a “saloon singer” typified by Matt Dentino’s melancholy version of the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer standard “One for my Baby and One More For the Road.” In another Arlen collaboration, the ensemble intoned “That Old Black Magic.” The cast is now clad in black formal wear for both the men and the women.
The revue concludes with Kander and Ebb’s “New York, New York,” a song inextricably associated with Sinatra. In 1968, Sinatra recorded a song written by a Frenchman with English lyrics by Paul Anka which would become Frank’s anthem and a summation of his life, My Way. In one of the best scenes in the show, the entire cast combines for this song.
The onstage band (which does not drown out the singers) include conductor and pianist Greg Dastillung (also music director), percussionist Hayden Floro and Bassist Jan Diehl.
Overall, this is enjoyable evening for both long time Sinatra lovers or first-timers to the great songs of the middle 20th Century. The ensemble is variously, upbeat, sad, joyful, enthusiastic and introspective. The singing is a little uneven but they embrace the heart and soul of Sinatra’s music. So, grab your porkpie hat and ubiquitous shot glass and make “your way” to My Way at the Covedale running through October 9. Buy tickets HERE. The next show will be Sister Act running from October 20 through November 13.
Doug Iden is an avid, lifelong theater fan with an extensive collection of original cast albums. He also teaches classes on musical theater at OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).