Fifty-three 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.”
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.
All do well as part of the group. Individually Prisco, in spite of a raspy throat on opening night, was the strongest of the four. Clemons-Hopkins was entertaining and amusing but, clearly a natural bass, had some pitch problems with his upper register. Both Herbert and Mooney were fine.
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. While costume designer Mary Folino dressed the men appropriately, her really strange Act I costumes and too glittery Act II dresses for the women were a real puzzle, but no matter.
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.
For tickets to “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” playing through July 3 at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3, call 215-574-3550 or 215-336-1234 or visit walnutstreettheatre.org
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