Writer: Joe DiPietro
Director: Kathleen Marshall
Even now, some 25 years after his death, such is the legacy of Frank Sinatra that there can be few who won’t have heard his name and even fewer who haven’t heard, at least in passing, some of his music. In Sinatra the Musical, we get to see Frank’s rise to fame initially as a big band boy singer then solo artist, and his subsequent fall from grace, as well as the ‘greatest comeback of all time’, leaving him on a high. There aren’t rose-tinted glasses here: he’s presented as a man with flaws of which serial philandering is the most obvious . We also see his turbulent second marriage to Ava Gardner’s impact on him.
But this is not a dry history of the man: Sinatra the Musical positively oozes with humanity. And part of the reason is the carefully curated song list. Pretty much all Sinatra standards (with a couple of well-made exceptions), the songs have been expertly matched to moods and one can’t help feeling that they genuinely progress the story while giving an insight into the man and those around him. Many of the songs are sung by Sinatra (Matt Doyle) in the show, for example, when he meets Ava Gardner and sings I’ve Got You Under My Skin, or later, after his divorce from Nancy, when he sings Come Rain or Come Shine with his daughter; but in others, supporting cast members take the lead, perfectly articulating their feelings, hopes and aspirations adding a whole new level to those songs and their lyrics. The pace at which we follow Sinatra’s career, especially the early years, does lead to some unintentionally amusing moments as short cameo appearances by the likes of Lana Turner or Gene Kelly require Sinatra to announce them by their full names so we get a chance to recognise their traits; but this does not detract from the whole.
This is all expertly supported by a set from Peter McKintosh that quickly transforms to transport us from glitzy clubs to hotel rooms to apartments, and the lighting design from Tim Mitchell. The period feel is cemented by the presence of a large onstage swing band, the costumes of Jon Morell and the period-feel choreography of Kathleen Marshall. It’s hard to believe that one person can generate the amount of choreography evident in this as well as direct the whole thing, but Marshall succeeds in spades. All of the elements come together perfectly.
Added to the roll of honour is casting director David Grindrod; all too often, casting directors do their jobs with quiet efficiency – the better they are, the less they are noticed. But the cast of principals here is quite superbly constructed with each character being totally believable.
It is in the casting of Matt Doyle as Sinatra that the casting director really earns his keep. Doyle looks like Sinatra, moves like him and has Sinatra’s swagger. And he performs Sinatra’s canon like Sinatra. Doyle and Marshall have wisely not made Doyle try to mimic Sinatra’s unique singing voice; rather, Doyle inhabits the role and one never for a moment doubts that he truly is a great star and talent.
Phoebe Panaretos as first wife Nancy and Ana Villafañe as Ava Gardner demonstrate the pull the man had on women. But they are fully formed characters themselves with excellent singing voices too. One can’t help but empathise with them as the story progresses. Of special note are Dawn Buckland and Vincent Riotta as Sinatra’s immigrant parents. Buckland is brilliant as the domineering Italian matriarch who takes no nonsense from anyone, least of all Frank: she absolutely wants the best for him, while not being blind to his faults. Buckland and Riotta’s rendition of You Make Me Feel So Young is especially touching.
Overall, Sinatra the Musical is the perfect storm of musical theatre – a strong story told through perfect harmony of all its elements.
Runs until 28 October 2023