A Pleasant Paean to Sinatra

By Geary Danihy

If you’re looking for a pleasant way to spend an enjoyable hour and a half – especially if you are of a certain age – you could do worse than travel to MTC MainStage in Westport to take in “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra.”

This tuneful, nicely staged revue, conceived by David Grapes and Todd Olson and directed by Kevin Connors, MTC’s executive artistic director, offers four talented singers reminiscing about Old Blue Eyes and singing (and often dancing to) many of his hit songs, as well as some you might not be familiar with.

The music is the message here, but there is an attempt to provide a frame, or at least to give the four entertainers some character mannerisms to work with.

Robert Townsend is given the role of the somewhat louche lounge singer who’s quick with a wink and a knowing nod, while Johnny Orenberg plays his somewhat naïve sidekick – think Donald O’Connor playing off Gene Kelly or, oddly enough, Sinatra himself in the three movie he made with Kelly. Orenberg’s character is a bit tongue-tied when it comes to the opposite sex, especially when she’s in the form of Jodi Stevens, the sophisticated femme fatale, though he doesn’t fare much better with the group’s ingénue, Jillian Schochet.

There’s not much depth here, nor is there meant to be, though the character takes can be a bit intrusive, especially when some of the performers are singing and the others are acting out (or upstaging) their hearts out – Stevens and Townsend are the worst offenders here, and given the size of the venue and the proximity of the audience it doesn’t take much to successfully distract, whether it’s intended or not.

Connors makes good use of the limited space the MainStage offers, moving his performers from a compact bar stage right to a center-stage piano and a cocktail table stage left as they offer stylized renditions of the songs the Chairman of the Board made popular, in the process evoking many fond memories. Backed by Max Haymer on piano, Henry Lugo and bass and Chris Johnson on drums, the quartet covers most of the standards, never making the mistake of attempting to “sound” like Sinatra.

However, as you listen you can’t help but hear a ghostly voice rise in your mind, a voice justifiably famous for its breath control and phrasing. Whether it’s “My Way,” “My Kind of Town,” “Love and Marriage” or “Fly Me to the Moon,” the imprinted version of the song echoes – there’s no escaping it and the phenomenon adds a pleasurable bonus to the evening.

There was a nice human touch to the performance the evening I attended, and it speaks to how conscious the performers are of the audience response to their efforts. During the finale, an elderly gentleman sitting to my left was waving his hands as if conducting the group. Stevens, a big smile on her face, stepped forward and offered her hand to him. He accepted it and gave it a light kiss. The gesture was a manifestation of the warmth and sincerity the four performers engender throughout the evening.

“My Way” runs through Sunday, April 17, with a 7 p.m. performance added to the closing date. For tickets or more information call 203- 4543883 or go to www.musictheatreofct.com

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