‘My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra’: Celebrating a Survivor

By Brooks Appelbaum -- Special to the Shoreline Times

“My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” can be enjoyed at the Ivoryton Playhouse through April 9, and those Frank fans who come for enjoyment will have a fine evening. The show, co-directed and co-choreographed by Rick Faugno and Joyce Chittick, consists of over forty of Sinatra’s up-beat songs and swooning romantic ballads performed by two women and two men. However, for those who seek emotional power in the songs they hear, the second half will linger far longer than the first. In the ten numbers that celebrate “Losers” and “Survivors,” the production comes alive, and the actors come alive, too, with charisma and warmth that’s oddly lacking in Act One.

Co-creators David Grapes and Todd Olsen (book by Todd Olsen) have included the maximum number of songs by structuring the evening around medleys that follow themes (“Favorites Medley”; “Cities Medley”; “Relationship Medley”). In all, ten medleys comprise Acts One and Two, and Act One contains most of the up-tempo numbers (and lots of terrific dancing), interspersed with a few ballads. Since we rarely hear a song all the way through, and since the songs come at us almost without a break, intermission provides something of a welcome relief.

The songs in the second act, though, give us not only a poignant and sometimes painful insight into Sinatra as the “18-carat manic depressive” and alcoholic, but also inspire the actor/singer/dancers to connect with the material and with the audience in an entirely new and moving way. If Rick Faugno, dashingly handsome and a remarkable dancer, seemed coolly detached in Act One, he tears right into you with his renditions of “One for My Baby,” and “That’s Life.” The latter is often sung (as it is by Ole’ Blue Eyes himself) as a swinging, swaggering number, but Faugno gives it a wholly original wry, bitter edge.

Vanessa Sonon is directed to play cute and flirty in Act One, and though her dancing is superb, she seems more like a doll than a real woman. Some of this is due to a Marilyn-like wig and scarlet lipstick against white-toned foundation that brings to mind a Marilyn impersonator. All of this is most unfair to Sonon, since it distracts from her skill. In Act Two, one would hardly recognize her as she does a lovely interpretive dance to “It Was a Very Good Year” (powerfully and ruefully sung by Josh Powell). A smooth bob has replaced the platinum wig, and she moves effortlessly from “small town girl” to “city girl” to “blue-blood girl,” demonstrating that along with her comic expertise, she is an actor to be reckoned with.

Josh Powell most often sings the comic songs in Act One: as a bartender; paired with Sonon; or doing some fun two-guys-on-the-town routines with Faugno. His voice is resonant, and he has terrific timing, but we really see him shine in “It Was a Very Good Year” and in Act Two’s other darker numbers.

The singer who is equally remarkable in both acts is Lauren Gire, who has been given not only the most strikingly classy and becoming costumes, but also sings many of the romantic ballads. Gire has one of the most glorious voices I’ve heard on any stage, and her presence is warm, poignant, sensual, and sweet. We believe every word she sings, whether she is crooning about “My Funny Valentine,” embodying Reno Sweeney in “I Get a Kick Out of You,” breaking our hearts in “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” or—especially—drawing us into her own heart in “All the Way,” which is one of the production’s strongest numbers.

Musical Director and pianist Andy Hudson, along with Matt McCauley on bass and Gary Ribchinsky on drums, back the singers beautifully, and the set, designed by William Russell Stark, is unobtrusive but provides a nice ambience, especially when the backdrop changes color depending upon the song. Lighting designer Christopher Hoyt also adds much to the production’s aura. Unfortunately, sound problems plagued the first act, although they seemed to have been fixed by Act Two.

“My Way” will certainly please those who love Frank Sinatra (on opening night, a few audience members sang along throughout). Others will find flaws in the directing and pacing, but they will also come away with a few stunning memories.

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