by Marilyn Lester
Mix together 4 resonant baritones, a charming tenor and a Broadway tap dancer, add an “icon for the ages” and pour in some of the greatest numbers of the American Songbook, and the result is a superb concert event to ensure Frank Sinatra lives on for another hundred years. Producer/director/writer Scott Siegel has produced four previous Sinatra shows for Feinstein’s/54 Below and the full houses have proved “The Chairman of the Board’s” popularity has not diminished one iota since his passing – Sinatra’s superstardom is indelibly assured.
And what better way to start a spirited Frank Sinatra:The Second Century show than with an exuberant uptempo “Come Fly with Me” (Jimmy Van Heusen & Sammy Cahn) sung by the chipper Alan Gillespie, featuring a super-charged piano riff by music director and pianist Ross Patterson. Gillespie also sang an equally cheerful “I’ve Got the World on a String” (Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler) later in the set. Sinatra recorded countless albums in his long career and sold 150 million records. Ol’ Blue Eyes also single-handedly committed a huge portion of the ASCAP catalog to vinyl. Among this remarkable output, one of his favorite songs remained “The House I Live In” (Earl Robinson). Cooper Grodin’s subtle and direct interpretation perfectly suited the weight of the song and was a welcome change from his earlier Vegas-style delivery of “The Lady is a Tramp” (Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart). Sinatra went through several phases of style in his career, and the Vegas finger-snapping lounge period wasn’t his most formidable. Michael Romeo Ruocco skirted the edge of that style with a very expressive “Luck Be a Lady” (Frank Loesser) and “The Best is Yet to Come” (Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh), a song originally written for Tony Bennett (and whose title is inscribed on Sinatra’s tombstone).
Tapping to Patterson’s animated playing of “Fly Me to the Moon” (Bart Howard), nimble dancer Luke Hawkins added a lovely change of pace from song with an agile Broadway style tap routine. Two stalwarts of the Siegel stable anchored the show: sole tenor, the uber-personable Scott Coulter, and the ever-sublime Robert Cuccioli. Coulter has a special charm and stage presence, and a sure-fire connection to the audience. His “That’s Life” (Dean Kay & Kelly Gordon) was wonderfully expressive and animated. It was Coulter’s task to close the show, which he did with the now iconic “New York, New York” (John Kander & Fred Ebb), performed with gusto and keen phrasing (a quality Sinatra was renowned for). Mid-set Cuccioli rightly had the ladies swooning with an earnest, subtly dramatic and somewhat mournful “Prisoner of Love” (Russ Columbo, Clarence Gaskill, & Leo Robin). Changing it up, Cuccioli immediately swung into a fun, upbeat “I Wish I Were in Love Again” (Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart), with easy delivery and voice in top form. It was swoon time again later in the show with a fresh take on ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Cole Porter); Cuccioli sang a fairly traditional version of the standard but to a fresh arrangement suggested by the singer and whipped up by Ross Patterson. The result was a swinging juxtaposition of styles different yet harmonious. Patterson, as usual, provided his creative playing to the entirety of Frank Sinatra:The Second Century, ensuring that his title of one-man orchestra remains undisputed.
Frank Sinatra:The Second Century, September 6 at 7 PM
Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, 646-476-3551, www.54below.com