nytheatre.com review by Robin Rothstein
November 18, 2007
Cabaret is a particularly challenging art form in that it requires performers to communicate honestly in an intimate setting without the support of the technical bells and whistles you would find in a revue or musical. As you enter the Songbook Theatre, the finished basement-like venue downstairs at Broadway Comedy Club where Our Sinatra: A Musical Celebration is currently playing, the dim lighting and flickering candles that greet you evoke a cozy atmosphere that coaxes the heart to open itself to the voices, piano, and bass about to pay tribute to one of America's most beloved vocalists. However, Our Sinatra, while smart in the broad appeal of its concept, never quite takes off, leaving you stuck on the ground when you were expecting to fly to the moon.
Without a doubt, the three singers in Our Sinatra are all vocally talented. The problem is that they don't consistently have an authentic emotional connection to the material, and hence, with the audience. The show is called Our Sinatra and yet we don't get enough of a sense early on why Sinatra is "their" Sinatra, and what personal investment they each have in Sinatra and these particular songs. What we get instead are Sinatra history sound bites along with lame bits of jokey banter that serve as awkward segues. As a result, a lot of Our Sinatra makes you feel as if you're watching a live version of one of those late-night infomercials selling a "Best of" Sinatra CD collection, rather than a unique and inspired homage. It is not until part way through Act Two, when the singers take a little time to talk about the various life-changing memories they each have in relation to Sinatra, that their performances become more consistently infused with a soul that is missing from a good deal of the show.
Though Kurt Stamm's direction has serious pacing issues, particularly during the first half of Act One, which is also a bit too ballad-heavy, there are several bright spots, including Christopher Gines's powerful delivery of "Ol' Man River" and Harmony Keeney's touching rendition of "It Never Entered My Mind." Another area that succeeds is a sequence called "Saloon Medley." An appropriately moody wash of red light evokes an authentic "wee small hours of the morning" feel, and the simple, effective stage picture of the ensemble hanging around a piano at a bar also provides a welcome opportunity for the performers to free themselves from having to negotiate the wires of their hand-held microphones. Elliot Roth plays piano with confidence and precision and possesses a silky smooth tenor that seems as if it is caressing the air, though his delivery could profit from a bit more emotional shading. Paul Gill on bass is the only member of the ensemble who doesn't sing during the show and he plays his instrument throughout with the kind of quiet commitment and agility that is deserving of a longer solo than the brief one he is given.
As one of the performers says during the show's second act, Sinatra was an emotional singer, which is what made him revolutionary in comparison to the vocalists who came before him. If the members of the Our Sinatra team can find a way to tap into their own emotionality with greater frequency, then Our Sinatra could potentially become, as Ol' Blue Eyes himself once crooned, a lovely way to spend an evening.