Frank Sinatra invariably signed-off his live concert performances with the words: “And may the last voice you hear be mine.” Almost eight years after Ol’ Blue Eyes died of a heart attack aged 82, the last word at the end of the first night of this daddy of all tribute shows went to his daughter Nancy who arrived on stage, carrying a celebratory bottle of Sinatra’s favourite Jack Daniels, to thank the gathered musicians and dancers. “You brought the magic back,” she toasted them, while fighting back tears of emotion.
Maybe it was just one of those priceless show-biz hokum moments, but she gauged the show’s mood music just right. From the very first ghost of a note wafting out of a juke box to the final soaring emotional life-enhancing rise of “My Way”, this multi-media maelstrom of old Sinatra newsreel and TV footage, is totally dominated by the vocal artistry of the kid from humble origins who ended up becoming the voice of America.
The frenzied combination of that iconic voice backed by big screen images endlessly gliding on and off stage - mostly singing numbers from the ring-a-ding trilby hat phase of his long career - the non-stop team of ace young hoofers and a blistering 30-piece live band becomes so mesmeric that well before we got to “New York New York” I’d begun to feel like one of those swooning 1940s adolescent bobby-soxers who fell into what at the time was dubbed a “Sinatrance”.
To their credit, director David Leveaux and choreographer Stephen Mear triumphed over technology by turning what could have been a digitally enhanced trawl through familiar songbook melodies into a dizzyingly live experience. Though considering biographers acknowledge Sinatra was the one vocalist of his era who lived the life he sang about (just think of lyrics in “One For My Baby (And One More For the Road)”), the biographical stuff - segued in between the film clips and the dance routines - only glosses over the personal ups and the downs, Rat Pack antics, political pay-offs, broken marriages and those never-to-go-away Mafia connections. Still, even at £55 for a top-whack ticket, Sinatra fans will want to add this £5 million show to their collection. And no-one should miss Mear’s crack squad of tappers and twirlers.
But for my money the show-stopping moment goes to musical director Gareth Valentine, when for one glorious Sinatra-free interlude he jumps, jitterbugs and jives his musicians through a storming big band rendition of “Hawaiian War Chant”. Now musical magic as uplifting as this will fly anyone to the moon.
- Roger Foss