Writer: Richard Shelton
Reviewer: James Garrington
On a cold and miserable January evening in Birmingham, you might want to wish yourself somewhere warmer for a while – and that’s exactly what you can do in the Old Joint Stock Theatre. Here you will find Richard Shelton in his new play Sinatra: RAW, which imagines Sinatra’s last intimate gig before his first retirement concert in 1971.
The publicity material announces that “Shelton is Sinatra”, and that is most certainly the case for the vast majority of the performance. He enters the room in character, delivers a couple of numbers accompanied on the piano by the excellent Michael Roulston, and launches into some anecdotes between songs. Within moments you feel transported to the Purple Room in Palm Springs, watching Sinatra perform. Shelton bears some physical resemblance to Sinatra which helps, but more than that his voice and mannerisms are uncanny, and he draws you in.
As the evening progresses the mood changes and we move away from the upbeat music and stories into something darker, as One for My Baby becomes not a glass but a bottle and we see a different side to the man. Deep-seated anger, resentment and hurt burst through the self-assured surface as we learn about his struggles, his fight against prejudice and bigotry, his relationships. Shelton is not only a cracking vocalist, he’s also a superb actor and entirely believable as Ol’ Blue Eyes.
Sinatra tribute acts are ten-a-penny but this is so much more than that. The script and performance combine to create an amazing emotional rollercoaster and 75 minutes of pure escapism. Sinatra: RAW is a must-see for any fan of the genre, and something likely to remain with you for a long time. It’s such a shame that the effect is spoilt when he comes out of character for the final speech, and you get brought down to earth with an abrupt bump. There seems to be no particular reason for it, and it completely changes the feeling of the end of the piece and your perception as you leave the theatre.
Nonetheless, Sinatra: RAW provides a superb evening’s entertainment and is highly recommended.
Runs Until 26 January 2019 | Image: Contributed