Theatre Review: CATCO’s Solid ‘My Way’ Skims the Sinatra Surface
Frank Sinatra helped redefine recorded music in the middle of the 20th century. Chalking up hits for over four decades, his body of work stands as a gargantuan monument to the spectrum of human emotion. His taste for the right song and ability to embody a lyric stay an inspiration and threat to any jazz or lounge singer to this day. Rarely a month goes by another tribute album doesn’t land – 2018 alone saw takes on his catalogue by Willie Nelson and Trisha Yearwood.
As much as his music, the mercurial, larger-than-life persona of Sinatra continues to captivate. This should make for exceptional drama, but David Grapes and Todd Olson’s My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, at CATCO in a handsomely mounted production directed by Steven Anderson, is all sound, no fury, and not much heat.
Using the cabaret-style environs of the Riffe Center’s Studio Three, My Way, deploys its cast – Joan Kraus, Shauna Davis, Robert McDannold, and Patrick Schaefer – as narrators and performers in an often charming production, but one with no discernible point of view. Anderson and choreographer Lorii Williams-Wallace use the set both effectively and subtly, knowing the meat is in those classic songs. They let the songs do the bulk of the work here.
To offer the broadest overview of an artist who cut over 50 albums, My Way arranges parts of over 50 songs into loosely themed medleys. This will rankle any purists who remember Sinatra’s attention to detail of song craft, but the show moves at a nice clip – coming in just under two hours with intermission – and some transitions are delightful: McDannold’s growling swagger through “I’ve Got the World on a String” punctured by Kraus’ ironic “High Hopes;” Davis’ show-stopping “It Was a Very Good Year” into the group’s “Here’s to the Losers.”
The singing is uniformly strong and often much better than the baseline it sets. A one-two punch of Cole Porter (one of Sinatra’s favorite songwriters) features Davis’ luscious take on one of the swingingest stories of settling, “It’s All Right With Me,” underlined and flipped by Kraus tearing into “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Kraus finds the throb inside Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” and Cahn and Styne’s “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.” McDannold carves indelible portraits out of classics like Arlen and Mercer’s “One for My Baby” and Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners.”
Even more than a showcase for the fine singers here, My Way is a dazzling showcase for the musical director and accompanist Quinton Jones. Jones makes solo piano arrangements by Vince di Mura, Stephen Kummer, and Donald Jenzcka, shimmer and bounce. His seamless slides between the various eras and styles feels easy and comforting but without sacrificing an iota of style or personality.
My Way isn’t the definitive Sinatra on stage; it doesn’t really try to be. But it takes its audience on an enjoyable waltz through one of the greatest songbooks of the 20th century.
My Way runs through September 1 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday (with special 11:00 p.m. performances August 24 and 31), and 2:00 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, click here.