Sinatra The Man & His Music continues at the London Palladium until 10 October.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★
However technically impressive Sinatra The Man & His Music turned out to be, it was crucial that this multi-media show succeeded in making an emotional connection with its audience if glowing reviews were to follow. This it achieves, in parts, but not consistently all the way through.
What does help, from the moment the onstage, excellent 24-strong, all-guns-blazing orchestra (led by MD Richard John) strikes up the overture, is that Francis Albert Sinatra’s music is very much the force that drives the evening along.
At first it’s quite eerie watching screens descend from the top of the proscenium arch, projected on which is footage of a living, breathing, singing Sinatra performing with his trademark charm and exquisite tone and phrasing. Yet soon one begins to enjoy the spectacle and, in particular, the fine, live accompaniment (an equivalent sound could, of course, never have been reproduced using the original recordings). Sinatra aficionados will be interested to hear Gareth Valentine’s new musical arrangements too.
Sinatra’s voice doesn’t just provide a narrative through song either (‘It Was a Very Good Year’ is referenced throughout), material from various archive interviews is also used to tentatively add in some biographical detail. This includes the story of the day he was born on 12 December 1915 when his grandmother helped revive him while the midwives were busy tending to his mother. (This show not only marks Sinatra’s centenary, but also the fact it is 65 years to the day since Ol’ Blue Eyes first ever performed in the UK at the Palladium back in 1950).
While these personal stories are few and far between, when director David Gilmore decides to focus on the important people in Sinatra’s life – his children, the women he loved, the artists he worked with, the politicians he respected (not least, John F Kennedy) – the use of specific songs can be rather effective.
Best of all of these scenarios, and the most touching of all, is a reflection on America’s involvement in the Second World War during which Sinatra’s image (singing ‘I’ll Never Smile Again”/‘I’ll Be Seeing You’), dominates the left-hand side of the vast Palladium stage. And yet there is an intimacy within the scene that is rather poignant.
One can’t but be impressed by the use of digital wizardry, as oodles of posters and photographs, together with excerpts from TV shows, concerts and award ceremonies, plus rare home movie footage of Sinatra with his children, are either projected onto large screens or individual sliding panels. (Video design is by 59 Productions and Stufish Entertainment Architects are responsible for the set design).
In order to make the production less of a passive experience for the audience, an ensemble of dancers is on hand to give the musical sequences a theatrical edge. It is not the fault of these talented performers, but it is this aspect of the show that is the least effective.
When the dancers are given a freedom to entertain, a freedom to move and not be limited by the technicalities of the show’s hi-tech premise (which must be timed to the tiniest detail), they really come into their own. Probably the best demonstration of this is in the ‘Sing Sing Sing’ Big Band number and the show’s finale where there is real joy and energy in their work. However, the artists are ultimately let down by some lacklustre and repetitive choreography (GJD Choreography), particularly in Act I, meaning their contribution can be a distraction in certain scenes, rather than adding to the context or atmosphere.
As a self-confessed Sinatra fan, I always derive pleasure from a chance to witness the effortless and unique way in which he delivered a lyric, and to see a larger-than-life version at the Palladium is both unsettling and occasionally entertaining at the same time. Whether the project works as a theatrical piece in its own right, and makes that all-important connection with an audience, is debatable.
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Sinatra The Man & His Music at the London Palladium – exclusive images – News