Homage to Frank fizzles
Though some of My Way’s musical numbers convey the magic of Sinatra, most are ultimately forgettable
Chico, CA 95973
My Way, a fast-paced tribute show that offers four-part medleys of Frank Sinatra’s signature songs, seemed like a fine recipe for an enjoyable Friday night at the Chico Theater Company. Unfortunately, when the lights came up at the end, I couldn’t get out of the theater fast enough.
And that was a shame. As a man of a certain age, I grew up soaking up all of Sinatra’s hits on WIP-AM in Philadelphia, and have had a life-long fondness of the man and the musician.
The show, as conceived by David Grapes and Todd Olson, does not attempt to imitate Sinatra, the quintessential American crooner. Instead, it’s set in an upscale nightclub lounge where two men and two women introduce and dramatically perform in round-robin style more than 50 Sinatra tunes, including such all-timers as “Strangers in the Night,” “Summer Wind” and “Witchcraft.” Some are offered medley-style and embrace specific themes, such as the seasons, Broadway and films, and love and marriage. Performances are also interspersed with snippets of Sinatra trivia.
Sadly, though, despite staying true to Grapes and Olson’s intended themes, this production’s stiff performances, lifeless choreography and overall dull delivery felt like a cross between The Lawrence Welk Show and an average high-school musical and were uncomfortable to watch. And at $20 per ticket, $25 at the door, patrons deserve better.
As a group, the vocal foursome never really clicked. A few fleeting moments shined with the rousing magic that an homage to Sinatra merited, but they were quickly quashed with what quickly became par for this course—bland triteness.
Two of the four principals do deserve particular accolades. Chiara di Benedetto Brown easily handled the vocals of every song that came her way with clear, strong projections and wide operatic range, and Andrew Hancock, who crooned nicely, clearly was the only engaging performer. Hancock’s mannerisms, sometimes as a pensive man nursing a neat glass of whiskey, or as a self-effacing non-ladies man, were charming and believable.
Unfortunately, Darin Young was neither. In addition to attempting several songs that were out of his range, particularly on the low end, Young offered contrived and over-exaggerated debonair gestures. His attempts at comedy were also overdone and awkward, like he was trying too hard. The fourth singer, Alayna Roby, was of good voice but was hamstrung by the production’s general banality.
The live-music component was excellent. Though I had doubts at the outset that three musicians could be enough to drive the production, the jazz combo was quite sufficient and notably up to the task. Music Director and pianist Carol Lane, stand-up bass player Chuck Stefanetti and drummer Jay Lewis were flawless.
Some vocal performances stood out, including Hancock’s affable, shake-hands-with-the-crowd version of “My Kind of Town” and di Benedetto Brown’s beautiful rendering of “My Funny Valentine,” and there were a few nice four-part-harmony moments.
But far too much of the show was forgettable—or worse. While songs such as “It Was a Very Good Year” and “Something Stupid”—the first an older man’s emotional assessment of his life and the second a duet made famous by Frank and daughter Nancy Sinatra—held so much promise, they came and went with mediocrity and a side of schmaltz. The culminating song, “My Way,” should have produced goose bumps but instead was as milquetoast as most of the rest.
Despite my disdain, it must be noted that most of the modest crowd appeared captivated with the show and they did give a standing ovation at My Way’s conclusion. But then, The Lawrence Welk Show and The Jim Nabors Hour also got some good TV ratings, thanks to the loyalty of a narrow demographic.
I can recognize the difference between graceful elegance and just plain cheesy, and sorry to say far too much of My Way falls squarely in the latter territory.