Theatre by the Sea's first show of their 76th season is "My Way" which is a musical tribute to Frank Sinatra, a two hour musical journey. Four performers belt out the tunes that made Sinatra, Ol' Blue Eyes, a musical icon and "Chairman of the Board." It celebrates his mystique and the music he made famous as though four elegant party-goers out on the town decide to sing their favorite songs in a gorgeous nightclub setting. Sinatra fans will find such classics as "High Hopes," "I've Got the World on a String," "The Lady Is a Tramp," and "That's Life," interspersed with interesting facts about the singer and his world. Sinatra's liking for women and alcohol, and his legendary talent, recording nearly 1,400 songs in a career that spanned generations are remembered fondly. The songs are assembled into ten medleys which contain 57 songs including "Fly Me to the Moon" and "New York, New York". My Way is a warm, affectionate and tuneful tribute to a reminder of those brilliant melodies that remain Sinatra's greatest legacy. David Grapes not only directs this show expertly but is the co-creator of it too with Todd Olsen with topnotch musical direction by John C. Brown. The four performers are John Fredo, who also choreographed this show and appeared in the original production, Casey Erin Clark, Karen Jeffreys and Jason Watson. The revue has a book by Todd Olsen and is made up of a series of medleys interspersed with exposition of Sinatra, his life and loves with music constantly playing throughout the show. The opening night crowd leapt to its feet to reward the four performers and three onstage jazz musicians for their hard work.
Owner and head producer Bill Hanney and fellow producers Amiee Turner and Joel Kipper spare no expense to create high standards for their opening show of the season. (Joel also designed the lights for the show which set the mood for the crowd including red spots during "My Funny Valentine" by Casey and blue ones for "Where or When" by Karen and the cast joining in later.) The musical director/pianist, John is onstage playing a baby grand piano donated by the show sponsor Luca Music with bass player, Sean Farias and percussionist, Mike Sartini. Not only is the music fabulous, he taught the singers the many intricate harmonies for their group numbers which bring thunderous applause from the crowd. The beautiful, costumes are by Lou Bird (who was one of Joel's professor's in St. Louis) They are sophisticated elegant cocktail evening wear which includes white tux jackets for the men in Act 1 with 3 piece black ones in Act 2 while the women wear shorter dresses, purple and light blue in Act 1 and longer black gowns with a hint of purple and blue in them in Act 2."My Way" premiered in June, 2000 and has been packing them in everywhere ever since. It's the hottest musical revue since "Forever Plaid". The gorgeous set is a sophisticated nightclub designed beautifully by Mark Halpin. There is a bar and stools on stage right with a table, a chair and booth on stage left while the musicians are on a marble looking platform with three long stairs so the performers can sing from a standing big band style microphone. The most poignant moment is at the end of the show after they do a rousing chorus of "New York, New York" and a surprise encore of :I'll Be Seeing You" which brings tears to the audience's eyes, Jason places one hat over the microphone in tribute to Sinatra who wished everyone lives to be a 100 years old and may the last voice they hear be his singing voice with a lone white spot shining on it as the audience leaves the theatre..
They all have terrific voices and never try to imitate Sinatra but give the show a finished glossy feel to it. Since there are almost 60 songs in the show I will mention a few of them.Most of the well known songs are the ones that celebrate cities, "I Love Paris" delivered in a jazzy rendition by Karen, "Chicago" by Jason and the famous "New York, New York" with John leading it off on it then becoming a fabulous four part harmony complete with felt hats. Each of the performers is different, John is debonair as the older Sinatra with his powerful baritone voice and shows off his fantastic tap dancing skills in "I've Got the World on a String" and "Tender Trap". He also choreographs many different dances during the show which the cast performs wonderfully. Jason who has a fantastic tenor voice which soars off the charts, is comical as the younger version in "Makin Whoopee" and "Witchcraft" and poignant in "Drinkin' Again". Jason and Karen have a duet on "Love and Marriage" which is hilarious and left the audience in stitches. The two women in the show represent the women in Sinatra's life. Casey, a pretty red head is sultry like Ava Gardner, when she sings"The Way You Look Tonight", "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "I'll Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" as well as "I Only Have Eyes for You" and the powerful "I'm Gonna Live till I Die". Karen, a gorgeous blonde, and a soprano, is a softer more feminine type like Mia Farrow or Juliet Prowse and sings The Best Is Yet to Come" does the samba and tango with John and Jason in "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and sings the sexy "That Old Black Magic". John's closing solo is his best "That's Life backed up with harmonies by the other three performers while they dance as his backup singers. I Get a Kick Out of You is done sexily by Casey who is flirting with John trying to make him jealous as well as "Something Stupid". "Strangers in the Night", one of his most popular numbers, opens the show, introducing the cast to the audience. All of this is interspersed with a bit of patter about Sinatra including the 14 women he either married or carried on with.(John Brown has a funny moment when he yells out Marilyn Monroe as one of the women Sinatra dated. The first act ends with songs about falling in love with "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "All the Way" closing the first act on a high note. David weaves moments of humor throughout the songs, keeping thing upbeat where they should be and emotional when it is called for. The second act builds to the last grouping, Songs for Survivors. As the ensemble toasts Sinatra with champagne, both "My Way" and "I'll Be Seeing You" appropriately end the show on a sentimental note with splendid harmonies. So for an excellent evening of melodies that will be with you for long after you leave the theatre, be sure to catch "My Way" to start the summer season off on a high note! Hurry before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you.(Press night is not complete without the sumptuous buffet prepared by Duane Crowe and his lovely wife, Karleen at the Bistro by Sea, the restaurant adjoining the theatre with their son, Adam waiting tables and bartending, too.The delectable food included such items as turkey, home made bread,shrimp and brownies.)