Sinatra

Ol' blue eyes is back! On multiple moving screens and supported by a live orchestra he's performing some of the greatest music ever recorded.
New Theatre, Oxford, Thu 3rd - Sat 5th April 2008

April 7, 2008
Sinatra’ uses rare archive film of ol’ blue eyes projected onto contemporary screens such as white umbrellas and sheets of gauze around which a West End chorus of dancers perform period choreography. The show spans Sinatra’s career from his precarious childhood, to being inspired by Bing Crosby, having his first major break at the Paramount right up to stars of today reflecting on his legacy. Bono states this entertainment heavy weight is ‘heavier than the Empire State’. Chunks of American History, notably the JFK election and the war years of the 1940’s, are covered informatively and the period costumes worn by the cast are exquisite as they integrate with the film sequences by dancing behind the screens. The jitterbug routines are full of verve and dare with each dancer taking the effort to project their own personality so it avoids the meaningless feel of an overly synchronised routine. The dancers’ individuality is also seen as the dance styles move with the times to display the go-go steps of the swinging sixties right up to the surge in popularity of the big band numbers in the Vegas of the 70’s. The on-stage big band roars, backlit with flashing lights, when the big production numbers are brought on. In this respect the biggest number is ‘New York’ where the dancers wear the signature black trilby, tights and leotards and look phenomenal.

The show is full of interesting facts that even diehard Sinatra fans may not know. The star was nearly saddled with the stage name ‘Frankie Satin’. His marriages to Nancy and then later to a young 20 something Mia Farrow are covered with one singer doubling as Mia and singing a duet to a pre-recorded Sinatra version of ‘I love you’. Intimate personal recollections are revealed by playing interviews with Sinatra where he describes lessons he learnt along the way. Successful people stay that way by continuing to work at it, he comments and in answer to his critics he quotes Humphrey Bogart’s words, ‘the only thing you owe the public is a good performance’. For one night only we are part of his public audience as a live camcorder captures us on screen so it looks like Sinatra is singing to us. It is not noticeable that so much cinema footage is played, as Sinatra’s famous eyes are so engaging. The man offers so much inspiration and enjoyment to the audience to this very day. When pressed on the darker side of life he expresses that he lived his life the best way he could. Truly a show to encourage the viewer to live life their own way and as Bono says, ‘I’m not going to mess with him. Are you?’

April 4, 2008
This production, a musical celebration of the life and music of Frank Sinatra, is ambitious to say the least. Indeed, such are the technical demands involved in this show, the opening night here in Oxford had to be postponed. With the Oxford New Theatre the smallest theatre on the tour, it is easy to see why.

The show is essentially a two-hour concert of Frank Sinatra songs, with footage of Sinatra singing on various projected screens, along with a live band and a group of dancers. The thinking behind this musical is certainly interesting and extremely innovative and, whilst it's not always completely convincing when all the elements are put together, there are moments of brilliance that force united gasps and fervent applause from the audience.

The live band are simply fantastic – not least because of the fact that they must keep in time with the recording throughout (which they do perfectly) – but also because of the way in which they do so: with such a soulful, natural swing that you could be forgiven for wondering if you had in fact been taken back in time to a concert with Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Better still, despite the age of the recordings, Sinatra’s voice is pretty crystal clear, barely losing any of its powerful effect on the listener.

Where the show suffers a little is in the somewhat awkward relationship between the projections of Sinatra and the live dancers on stage. In some numbers, like the opening classic Come Fly With Me, the combination works fine, but in some of the more subdued songs the dancers look a little out of place on the stage – more like they are admiring the iconic singer like the rest of us, only in costume. However, when they do get to ‘strut their stuff’, they do so with impressive gusto – the tap-dancing in particular is a real highlight.

In between songs, the band continues playing quietly as we hear snippets of Sinatra talking about various points in his life – personal, professional and political. This biographical element works well, despite perhaps painting him in a somewhat ‘cleaner’ light than some people might agree with – glossing over some of the darker, less favourable aspects of the singer’s life. At the same time, it doesn’t really seem to matter. What is more important, and what this show is all about, is the fact that we can pay tribute to a man whose voice and songs still live on in the world of jazz today.
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