A Celebration of Sinatra’s Timeless Hit Songs!
by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Frank Sinatra ruled popular music in the last half of the 20th century and his style and influence still rules today, not only with his singular interpretations of the Great American Songbook but with style that continues to influence new artists. Since the 1950s, new singers studied how astutely he used the microphone and stressed the consonants, sharing the song’s intent with phrasing and pacing to put the song across. Many singers presented no more than imitations. Others added their own techniques; but even today, while some come close, no one really sounds like Sinatra.
There were no mimics at Scott Siegel’s tribute, 54 Salutes Frank Sinatra: The Second Century, just talented singers joining the latest Siegel salute to the top-of-the-heap superstar. The sold-out audience was reminded of the memorable Sinatra repertoire and performance style. Siegel interspersed the songs with anecdotes and comments about the man and his music and the times they defined. Musical director/pianist Mark Hartman accompanied the variety of different singers with an ear for their sensitivity and personal styles.
Like Sinatra, Jack Noseworthy—actor as well as singer—opened the show with two Sinatra standards, “Come Fly With Me” by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, who also wrote “All the Way,” a 1957 Academy Award winner. Sammy Cahn joined Jule Styne writing, “Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night of the Year,” performed here by Sal Viviano, a personable baritone with a Sinatra-styled finger-snapping beat. Viviano then turned to the dark side for Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “One For My Baby (One More for the Road).” The song was introduced by Fred Astaire but Sinatra made it his song. Viviano turned it into a one-act confession and pianist Hartman was the understanding bartender. Viviano returned later in the show with a song of simmering regret, “I Fall in Love too Easily” (Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne), followed with a snappy tune by Jule Styne, “Just in Time,” with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Danny Gardner was a delight. Sinatra had proven his terpsichorean chops, dancing in films like Anchors Away with Gene Kelly. Here Gardner (Dames at Sea), singing and dancing, absorbed the spirit of “I’ve Got the World on a String” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler); and with the same exuberance, he returned with Cahn and Van Heusen’s “My Kind of Town (Chicago Is).”
Most fans have a favorite Sinatra rendition of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” some preferring the ballad versions, others like the upbeat. Broadway’s Aaron Ramey (The Visit) gave it the up-tempo treatment but slowed down the beat for “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Douglas Ladnier (Jekyll and Hyde) performed two brooding Sinatra ballads: Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “Here’s That Rainy Day,” and “My Funny Valentine” (Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart). “Softly, As I Leave You” was a popular song at the San Remo Festival, written by Georgio Calabrese and Tony DeVita, with English lyrics by Hap Shaper. With this song, Rafael Rodriguez made his 54/Below debut with heartfelt drama and accompanied on piano by Billy McDaniel.
Popular tenor Scott Coulter was a standout with two of Sinatra’s megahits, “New York, New York” written by John Kander and Fred Ebb for Liza Minnelli in the film of the same name. Sinatra’s version became a favorite, traditionally played at Yankee Stadium whenever the home team plays. Coulter closed the show with “My Way,” a French song by Jacques Reveaux with English lyrics by Paul Anka written for Sinatra. The song became Sinatra’s signature tune and a favorite for many, including the newly inaugurated U.S. President. About that, Frank’s daughter Nancy remarked, “It’s all about the first line,” (“And now, the end is near”), a touch of black comedy that got a laugh from the audience.
54 Salutes Frank Sinatra: The Second Century’s final installation, A Celebration of Sinatra’s Timeless Hit Songs! played January 24 at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street between Eighth Avenue and Broadway). www.54Below.com
Photos: Elizabeth Ahlfors