In the centenary of his birth, Frank Sinatra is back in London. His daughter Nancy was at the opening of this show and in an emotional address, she explained how much her father had loved the city and the Palladium itself, where he had spectacular success 65 years ago.
Sinatra at the London Palladium is an honourable attempt to recapture the experience of seeing Frank live, using a fabulous orchestra and a team of eager dancers. There is no attempt at recreating Frank as a performer, either through hologram effects or by using other singers (as Thriller does very successfully with the music of Michael Jackson, for example).
Instead, we see some of his finest filmed performances projected on a large drop-down screen, or on other backdrops. Technology has allowed the largely black-and-white images to have new brightly coloured backgrounds, and the video design by 59 Productions fills the stage space with a restless energy. But the main focus is inevitably the screened Frank, singing through a medley of his best-loved numbers alongside a biography made up of clips from interviews and a trawl through the photographic archive.
For fans and interested music lovers alike, the show reinforces Frank Sinatra’s status as a magnificent singer and a charismatic performer, whose gaze gets a hold of you and doesn’t let go. And therein lies the problem for the rest of the cast – all dancers – who struggle to get a look-in despite their best efforts to give this show the effect of a musical spectacular. When all eyes are raised to the screen above, the on-stage action is easy to overlook, and this disconnection of the key performers from ‘Frank’ himself is a problem throughout. Nor is it aided by the efficient, but curiously bland, choreography.
The main strength of this as a live show is its band – superbly led by musical director Richard John, with musical supervisor Gareth Valentine and orchestrations by Don Sebesky and David Pierce. Tight as you like, full of energy and with virtuoso soloists on trumpet and clarinet, they could perhaps have spent more time on stage rather than being tucked away behind banquettes on high. After all, Frank himself acknowledged his huge musical debt to the band leaders he worked with, not least Tommy Dorsey, credited with teaching him all he knew about phrasing and breath control.
Sinatra at the London Palladium is an immersive musical experience that shines the spotlight back on Frank’s inimitable talent. But its fragmented feel makes it a sum of its parts, rather than a fully satisfying whole.
Sinatra at the London Palladium runs until 10 October