Ol’ Blue Eyes. The Voice. The Chairman of the Board.
Whatever you call him, Frank Sinatra is still America’s coolest pop crooner.
His legacy lives on in the musical revue “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” running Friday through July 22 at the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre. The show features a total of 58 songs made popular by the Sultan of Swoon, including “Strangers in the Night,” “High Hopes,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
According to director Kevin Harris, Sinatra’s music is “completely timeless.”
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“Every six or seven years, there’s a new group of young people that discovers his music all over again,” he said. “(They) discover how wonderful it is.”
Created by David Grapes and Todd Olson, “My Way” celebrates the Italian-American singer who launched his career in the swing era, performing with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey before going solo in 1942. He released his first album, “The Voice of Frank Sinatra,” in 1946.
A prolific performer known for his eloquent baritone, exquisite phrasing and magnetic stage presence, Sinatra released roughly 60 albums over six decades and won 11 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award. Meanwhile, he established himself as an Academy Award-winning actor, appearing in films such as “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “From Here to Eternity.”
Sinatra was also a founding member of the Rat Pack, whose ranks included fellow crooners Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin in the 1960s, and a legendary Las Vegas entertainer known for his relationships with celebrities Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe, and statesmen including John F. Kennedy.
“Frank was an original,” cast member John Laird said, distinguished by his blue eyes, good looks and an “incredible sense of which songs would suit him.”
“People really loved him —men, women, it didn’t matter. People were just completely captivated by his persona more than anything else.”
Although “My Way” features a few biographical details, as well as quotes by Sinatra and his friends, the show doesn’t dwell on the seamier aspects of Sinatra’s life — such as his reported Mafia ties, or his numerous personal and public feuds.
Instead, “My Way” focuses on the vast repertoire of pop hits Sinatra left behind following his death in 1998.
“He’s got quite an amazing collection,” cast member Danielle Dutro said.
In the revue, a pair of young lovers (Ayrton Parham and Dutro) and an older couple (Laird and Suzy Newman) perform song medleys in an intimate nightclub-style setting.
They’re accompanied live by keyboardist
Stephen Tosh, bassist Bill
Wingfield and his son, drummer Alec Wingfield. (Tosh doubles as music director, while Zach Johnson serves as choreographer.)
Although the cast members hope to channel some of Sinatra’s charisma, Laird stressed that they’re not interested in doing impressions.
“You could try to imitate Sinatra, but why?” he asked. “(This way) I don’t have to disappoint an audience member because I didn’t sing like Sinatra. I’m just sharing these songs that we both love.”
The program runs the gamut from big-city swagger ( “New York, New York,” “L. A. Is My Lady”) to seductive romance ( “That Old Black Magic,” “Witchcraft”).
The melancholy ballad “One for My Baby” showcases Sinatra’s ability to tell a story through song, Laird said, while the fun, flirtatious “Fly Me to the Moon” epitomizes his swinging musical style.
In addition to well-known tunes such as “The Sunny Side of the Street” and “The Lady is a Tramp,” Parham said, “My Way” features forgotten gems such as “Wave,” a bossanova tune originally recorded by Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.
“So many of his songs are in the Great American Songbook,” Parham said, noting that many modern-day performers owe a debt to Ol’ Blue Eyes.
“(This show) is a real joy because I know how many people love these songs,” he added. “It’s going to bring a real thrill to their faces when they realize, ‘Oh, I know this song.’ ”