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Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

That's Life: From Sinatra to Sondheim
Actors Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of A Night with Noël: The Music of Noël Coward, Songs for a New World and Jersey Boys


As part of its Summer of Theatre series, Actors Theatre is presenting two performances of a wonderful cabaret show entitled That's Life: From Sinatra to Sondheim. Featuring vocalists Kristen Drathman and Rusty Ferracane, the show includes a wide range of songs that, as Drathman states, covers "our experiences in life, the highs, the lows, the good, the bad, the ugly." With superb accompaniment and arrangements by musical director Craig Bohmler, the show also excels with succinct patter full of personal anecdotes that relate to each song.

With numerous show stoppers, the 80-minute concert includes twenty songs, most of them revolving around the various phases of relationships. Drathman and Ferracane instill each song with warmth and honesty, which resonates with the lyrics; Bohmler's piano skills are exemplary and his arrangements rich and varied. With just one exception, the patter is short and specific, connects to the material and is well scripted, yet seems natural. Since it covers such a wide range of "life" topics, including long distance romances, learning to be yourself, divorce, and children, which are all experiences the audience is able to easily relate to, it makes the references, the song selections, and the show as a lot more successful.

Drathman's excellent facial expressions and wide eyes bring added emotion to her songs. Her knock-out delivery of several numbers from musicals, including "Cabaret" Thoroughly Modern Millie's "Gimme Gimme" and "The Trolley Song" from Meet Me in St. Louis is equally matched by her quiet, grounded delivery of Martina McBride's pop and country smash "In My Daughter's Eyes." Her romantically lush "I'll Be Seeing You" is also very moving.

Ferracane is just as effective, filling his delivery of each song with a deep personal connection. While this is best shown in "I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles, with his phrasing and passion he also provides an individual association with the numerous Sinatra songs in the evening, including a bluesy take on "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" and a rousing "New York, New York."

While the majority of the evening's performances are solos, there are also a few duets, including the opening number: an interesting take on the famous Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand pairing of "Happy Days are Here Again" and "Get Happy." It's interesting in that it is usually performed by two women, yet works just as effectively when sung by a woman and a man. Other duet highlights include a touching take on "My Funny Valentine" and an excellently arranged "I've Got Rhythm" that starts slow and then speeds up, includes an excellent piano solo in the middle, and ends with both Ferracane and Drathman belting to the rafters. Another highlight is their superb delivery of a slightly abridged version of the duet of "A Boy Like That" and "I Have a Love" from West Side Story, another song usually performed by two women. Having it sung by a woman and a man, with the man professing "I love him, I'm his, and everything he, is I am too," gives it a more modern sensibility.

Bohmler's expert playing and arrangements are excellent, complementing and never detracting from the vocals. He also hs a couple of moments to shine, giving expert solo versions of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" and a stirring rendition of Chopin's "Étude for Aeolian Harp."

Just two quibbles. First, the show does mention both Sinatra and Sondheim in the title and while there were several songs Sinatra was famous for singing, there is only one Sondheim song featured in the evening. And that is a song from West Side Story, one for which he only wrote the lyrics, not the music. Second, Rusty's story about seeing the movie Ice Castles with his mother is humorous, but runs on a bit too long and the point of the story is a bit unclear.

However, those are two very small negative points in an otherwise enjoyable, moving and extremely entertaining concert. With a theme that anyone can relate to as well as a vast and varied song selection, That's Life: From Sinatra to Sondheim is a cabaret concert with two exceptional singers, an amazing pianist and many thrilling moments.

The final performance of the Actors Theatre production of That's Life: From Sinatra to Sondheim is on August 10th, 2014, at the Black Theatre Troupe/Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center, at 1333 East Washington Street in downtown Phoenix. Ticket information can be found at actorstheatrephx.org/ or by calling (602) 888-0368.

Performed by Kristen Drathman and Rusty Ferracane
Directed and Arranged by Craig Bohmler

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix



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