Take the Highway

by David A. Rosenberg

If you have a choice between “My Way” and the highway, choose the latter. The tribute to Frank Sinatra at Music Theater of Connecticut is a tiresome concert disguised as a theater piece.

Listed as taking place in a 1950’s nightclub, the revue sketchily traces Old Blue Eyes’ career. More a nostalgia trip to an era of hummable pop tunes than an enlightening look at an icon, the evening journeys from his start at the Paramount through to his death in 1998. 

A Tennessee import conceived by David Grapes and Todd Olson with a book by Olson, “My Way” lumps together dozens of songs from the Sinatra catalogue. In between are tidbits of biographical information about the self-proclaimed “guy’s guy,” such as his penchant for multiple female beauties, drinking and smoking.

That Sinatra was a unique stylist, a great personality and star is without a doubt. His less than noble private character traits – his attitude toward women, for instance – are balanced by his generous and largely unsung charitable causes.

The secret to his public success, we’re told, was adhering to the motto, “Sing Good Songs.” Good songs, dozens of them for ”every mood, time and emotion,” are what we get, culled from nearly 1,400 recordings and ranging from familiar to obscure.

Here are “Strangers in the Night,” “All of Me” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Forming a medley of traveling tunes are “I Love Paris,” “Chicago” and, of course, “New York, New York.” Paired are “Summer Wind” and “Indian Summer,” as well as “That Old Black Magic” and “Witchcraft.” Less well known are “Dindo,” “I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” “Lean Baby” and “Wave.”

The evening’s highlights include the wistfully appealing “It Was a Very Good Year” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” which enlists the audience to snap fingers on the beat. While direct imitations of Sinatra are avoided, several numbers (“The Tender Trap,” “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “Let’s Get Away From it All”) are reminders of his marvelous ability to swing a song.

Director Kevin Connors groups the performers in as many variations as possible, given the aimless script. Backed by a stylish combo (piano, percussion, bass) playing excellent arrangements, the performances are competent. Robert J. Townsend sings with a seductive twinkle, Jodi Stevens adds glamour and Jillian Schochet is a perky ingénue. But Johnny Orenberg’s voice is too light to carry even in MTC’s intimate space.

At the end, Sinatra’s quoted as saying, “May you live to be 100 and may the last voice you hear be mine.” Not a bad sentiment to celebrate the career of a major 20th-century figure. Sure beats this show.

This review by Dave Rosenberg appeared in The Hour, Thursday, April 7, 2011.


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