Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Unlike other jukebox musicals that take the music of a famous singer or group and either use those songs to tell the life story of that person, like Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, or use the songs as a way to move a fictional story forward, such as Mamma Mia!, My Way simply presents more than 50 songs Sinatra sang to create an evening of beautiful music and to provide a few details about this very famous man. The songs Sinatra made famous range from romantic love songs to smooth jazz and toe-tapping Broadway tunes, and here they are performed by four singers. The decision to not have one of these performers be a Sinatra imitator is a wise choice, and grouping many of the songs together allows for new, fun arrangements and solo, duet, trio and quartet versions of the many well-known songs to be heard in a fresh way.
My Way was conceived by David Grapes and Todd Olson, with Olson also providing the brief moments of dialogue in between many of the songs that help bridge them together while also offering some information about Sinatra, his life, and his career. The selections are mainly grouped in medleys, focusing on specific types of songs Sinatra made famous, including a medley of Broadway tunes, a grouping of love songs, numbers about cities, and even a section of songs that focus on losers. Just a few of the well-known titles include "I've Got You Under My Skin," "That Old Black Magic," "New York, New York," "High Hopes," "One For My Baby," "Witchcraft," and "The Lady is a Tramp," with songs by such famous writers as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, Johnny Mercer, Jerome Kern, and Cy Coleman.
The Phoenix Theatre Company cast features four talented local performers, Trisha Ditsworth, James D. Gish, Matravius Avent, and Jessie Jo Pauley, who have all graced the Phoenix Theatre stage in lead, supporting or ensemble roles. A few of the many highlights in this show include Ditsworth's sultry "My Funny Valentine," her beautifully belted "I Get a Kick Out of You," and a soaring "All the Way" and Gish's powerful "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)," his boozy "Drinkin' Again," and an introspective "One for My Baby." Also, Avent's gorgeous "Fly Me to the Moon," and with Pauley, the bright and upbeat "Face the Music and Dance," and also with Ditsworth, the romantic "I've Got You Under My Skin." There are some beautiful harmonies from all four on "I Only Have Eyes For You" and other well-sung group numbers, including "It Was a Very Good Year," "New York, New York," and "My Way." While it isn't mentioned during the show, Ditsworth and Avent, and Gish and Pauley, are also real-life couples, which adds an additional element of fun to the proceedings, with the pairs being romantically linked together and unlinked for many of the numbers.
However, while all four performers are very talented, there are a few of the songs and arrangements that don't fit naturally with their voices. Also, Sinatra was known for the clarity in his vocal delivery and his precise articulation of the lyrics, and some of the vocals in this production could be clearer and the lyrics better enunciated.
Director D. Scott Withers provides a brisk pace for the show while also allowing the more serious songs to resonate. He also creates a rich and romantic atmosphere that lets each of the songs shine, while choreographer Robert Kolby Harper adds a few fun upbeat dances and romantic steps that mirror the meaning in the lyrics. Musical director Alan Plado ensures the vocals are bright and the harmonies gorgeous while also leading the three-piece band in delivering tight musical arrangements. There are also some beautiful video designs by Dallas Nichols that provide moving imagery on the large video screen and tie into the themes and lyrics of the songs.
During the show, it's mentioned that when Sinatra was asked what the secret to success was, he said it was to "sing good songs." My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra may not be an earth-shattering new musical but it does present dozens of not just good, but great songs and is a fitting tribute to this famous man, a nostalgic trip back in time, and a beautiful way to hear more than 50 incredible songs sung by a talented quartet of Valley performers.
The Phoenix Theatre Company's outdoor venue provides socially distanced seating and is located in the large courtyard of the Central United Methodist Church, directly on the north side of Phoenix Theatre's parking lot.
My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra runs through May 23, 2021, at The Phoenix Theatre Company, Central United Methodist Church, on the north side of the Phoenix Theatre's parking lot, 100 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling 602-254-2151.
Todd Olson & David Grapes
* Courtesy of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.