Review: The song's the star in 'My Way'

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Frank Sinatra knew how to hook an audience.

His most provocative lure: a smooth-as-silk voice that could fly just about anyone to the moon. Of course Sinatra always said he just sang good songs. "My Way ... A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" capitalizes on the crooner's long list of unforgettable numbers -- and the nostalgia they invariably inspire.

The show opened Friday at Lawrence Community Theatre.

The musical revue buzzes through more than 50 of Sinatra's songs, from his well-known "My Funny Valentine," "New York, New York" and "The Best Is Yet to Come" to more obscure tunes like "Dindi" and "Wave." Rather than present the music chronologically, creators David Grapes and Todd Olson group the music by categories. There's the Broadway medley, the cities medley, the young love medley, the love and marriage medley and so on.

Between musical sets, two couples -- one older and married, the other young and courting -- reminisce about 'Ol Blue Eyes at a schmaltzy desert bar complete with potted palm trees, neon martini glasses and a three-piece band. Jack Riegle's sparsely though smartly equipped set evokes just the right mood while still letting the music steal the spotlight.

The show feels a bit awkward at the start. Many of the first-act group numbers are sung in unison with no harmony -- a frankly undynamic choice -- and it sometimes feels as though the actors are simply going through the motions. But the energy picks up in Act II, which features more prominent solos and punchier ensemble numbers complete with four-part harmony and creative staging by director Julie Noonan.

Kevin Stacy handles an impressive range of styles, from the 21-year-old section of the hauntingly nostalgic "It Was a Very Good Year" to the raucous "I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die." The powerful but loose and swinging style required to sing Sinatra comes through in Stacy's voice, which helps make up for his stiff movements on stage.

Jack Greenwood's rich voice falls easy on the ears, but leaves you wishing he'd sing with a little less restraint and a lot more expression. He finally lets go in the second act during "That's Life," one of the show's standout pieces, with Stacy, Fran Hopkins and Jennifer Forman bringing up the rear as fedora-toting background singers. Greenwood also shines when singing the familiar opening lines of "My Way."

The rapport between he and Hopkins -- they're the older of the two couples -- is charming. She plays the outgoing, flirtatious type, he the reserved, slightly ornery gentleman.

Hopkins excels in numbers that allow her to stay in her vocal mid-range; a bit too much vibrato in her upper register distracts at times. But she's at ease on stage and moves well while she sings. Hopkins' strongest number is "All the Way," which pairs her with Forman as the older, wiser woman counseling Forman in the ways of love.

Forman stands out as the best vocalist and all-around performer of the bunch. In her consistently velvety, pitch-perfect voice, she delivers a stunning, emotional opening to "It Was a Very Good Year" and exhibits impressive dynamic control in "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry."

The best group numbers -- "It Was a Very Good Year" and "That's Life" -- come in the second act. That's also where the cast performs a stirring version of "My Way," which they deftly reclaim from the corny jingle writers at eBay.

Pianist Francene Beall, bassist David Sostarich and percussionist Valance Penn show their chops with almost non-stop accompaniment through the nearly two-hour show.

If you're dead set on hearing Frank Sinatra, stay home and listen to his records. But if you like his songs (even if they're done someone else's way) and are up for a trip down memory lane, go check out "My Way."

The show plays at the Lawrence Community Theatre today and for the next two weekends.