TMP brings Sinatra tribute to the stage

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(front l to r) Tasha Smith, Allyson Jacobs-Lake, Jessica Hanson, Nancy Herbert Bach. (back row l to r) Colin Briskey, Mauro Bozzo, Mark Rake-Marona, and Jonathan Bill. Lower photo shows the cast performing the “Moon Medley.” photo by Kat Dollarhide

Tacoma Musical Playhouse continues its 2017-18 season with “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” which functions as the playhouse’s romantic Valentine’s show, featuring a bounty of songs about love and romance.

The cast of eight singer/actors are backed up by a live band on stage: Jeffrey Stvrtecky on piano, Jessie Kuras on string bass and Iris McBride on drums. Behind the band is an understated backdrop consisting of the silhouettes of skyscrapers. The rest of the background can be lit with a variety of brooding hues and projected effects (such as a beautiful big, full moon.)

The show is a musical revue, a series of medleys of Frank Sinatra songs, clustered according to theme, beginning with favorite hits before going to Broadway music, songs about cities, odes to young love, homages to summer and songs of love and marriage. Act II kicks off with bittersweet songs of “losers” before progressing to songs of flirting and moody musings on the moon. The “Survivors Medley,” featuring the titular “My Way,” brings the show to a close. During the course of the medleys, the actors recount stories and provide facts from the life of Sinatra. Did you know, for example, that Sinatra recorded more than 1,300 songs during his long career?

In all, the TMP show features material from 56 different songs. The actors do not simply stand and sing, they act out scenarios, engage in a variety of dances and generally keep the audience engaged as they breathe life into the musical legacy of “old blue eyes,” one of Sinatra’s multitude of titles. (He was also called Swoonatra, La Voz, The Voice, Chairman of the Board and the Sultan of Swoon.)

The success of the show rests on the voices and the acting talent of the cast of four women and four men. Here, the women are much stronger than the men in keeping the luminous contraption aloft. Nancy Herbert Bach, lately seen as Ursula in TMP’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” has a magnetic stage persona, with piercing eyes, a vigorous presence and a strong, self-confident voice. Allyson Jacobs-Lake is equally powerful, but gives a sweet and creamy delivery to her lyrics. Tasha Smith is a revelation in this show: with sparkling eyes, she delivers a flow of velveteen lyrics that at times swell to a delightful crescendo. Jessica Hanson is also sharp and crisp in her delivery.

The menfolk blend some rich tenor and baritone into the mix, making for a rich mosaic of vocal combinations. Colin Briskey, who recently received his bachelor of music degree in musical theater from Oklahoma City University, is a talent to watch. Tall, fabulously mustachioed Mauro Bozzo is a lively and animated presence on the stage. Mark Rake-Marona and Jonathan Bill both have a jaunty and jovial air. The latter is the source of the low, baritone vocals that flow like aged scotch over a weather-beaten bar.

The show flows seamlessly along, a medley of medleys, in which there is an ever-shifting combination of voices. Sometimes the men sing, sometimes it is just the women. Sometimes the couples perform lovely, heart-felt duets. At times, the show hits a big crescendo with the whole cast joining together in a full-blown song and dance.

“My Way” was created by David Grapes and Todd Olson with musical help from Vince di Mura. Grapes and Olson began work on the show after watching the many tributes to Sinatra in the wake of his death in May of 1998. TMP’s Managing Artistic Director Jon Douglas Rake directed and choreographed the TMP production.

Born to Italian immigrants in 1915 in Hoboken, N.J., Sinatra had a career as a singer, actor and producer that ran from the swing era of the 1940s to the popular music of the 1970s and 80s. In the 1950s, he was part of the Las Vegas-based group of performers known as “The Rat Pack.” In 1953 his acting role in “From Here to Eternity” earned him an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 1983, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1997. Over the span of his career, Sinatra also won 11 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Trustees Award, Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

“My Way” runs through Feb. 25 with showings at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. There are also 2 p.m. matinee shows scheduled for Saturdays, Feb. 17 and Feb. 24. For further information, call (253) 565-6867 or visit tmp.org.

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