Starting with a lone jukebox on stage, we are immediately whisked into “Come Fly With Me.” From there, through a combination of recorded interviews, and some wholly impressive multimedia design, Sinatra leads us through his celebrated journey on and off stage. The tough childhood, first wife Nancy, an Oscar win, Vegas, JFK, Mia Farrow, his children…on and on it goes, as the songs underscore the key points in this icon’s astonishing life and career.
The multimedia design here is simply ingenious; archive performances, interviews and rare footage have all been restored, and manipulated on giant screens, that bring Sinatra to life, and allows him the chance to be tour guide for the evening. As I said, totally bizarre – but it works.
Then there are the songs. The superlative 16-piece ensemble, led by the wiry and wired Tom Kelly are first rate. Their enthusiasm is infectious; they get the biggest cheer of the night. And, boy, what songs. “The Lady Is A Tramp”, “My Way”, “That’s Life”, “High Hopes”, and, literally, many many more. And fortunately, the material is still sung by the greatest male voice of the last century. Sometimes behind the beat, sometimes riffing round it, there’s no escaping Sinatra’s familiar laid-back crooning.
The ten-strong company are superb (Jon Reynolds is a standout); versatile in their Twyla Tharp-esque choreography (actually Stephen Mear on nearly top form) and Broadway belt voices, they create genuine moments of va-va-voom. That said, though David Leveaux's direction is characteristically assured, the splitting of audience focus is sometimes distracting. Likewise, it’s disappointing to see some sloppy technical hitches in a show that is mostly so assured.
In terms of narrative, it glosses over the infidelities, the political double-dealings and mafia involvement. But it’s great fun, even if not complete enough to offer us anything deeper than a biographical account.
All told, though, the crowd loved it and so did I. If you’re a fan, you’ll be in seventh heaven. And if you’re not, I defy you not to leave the theatre with affection and admiration anew – for both the man himself and the production.
For fans of Sinatra himself, let’s be frank; this knockout show is quite simply as good as it gets!
- Matthew Nichols