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By Bridgette M. Redman
Take a step back in time to when singers wooed their audiences with little but their voice, a piano, a drumset and maybe an upright bass. Return to an era when the men dressed in suits and ties and the women were glamorous in stunning dresses and shimmering jewelry.
Enter the Mason Street Warehouse and let yourself be seduced by the greatest of crooners who recorded more than 1,500 songs while making movies, recording records, performing on Broadway and touring the country to sing before live audiences. For the next few weeks, the Saugatuck theater pays tribute to Frank Sinatra with a revue of many of his most-beloved songs.
"Our Sinatra" is part of the 10th anniversary celebration of Mason Street Warehouse, for it is a show that was part of their first season and returns to the Saugatuck stage with the original cast, a cast that has gone on to star in Broadway productions and record CDs and Hollywood movies: Tony DeSare, Adam James and Laurie Wells.
This isn't a musical with a plot or story; rather it is what they advertise it to be: a musical celebration. And celebrate they do. "Our Sinatra" is part nightclub, part Broadway stage – an elegant setting where a grand piano dominates the stage and scrims spelling out "FRANK" become the backdrop for ever-changing colors and lighting effects. Lighting designer Jennifer Kules creates a visual treat to match the velvety vocals of the performers, with each song having its own look and colors.
Given that Sinatra's songs and legends have taken on a larger-than-life pallor, it is fitting that it takes three vocalists to properly pay tribute to his body of work. And all three are up to the task, interacting playfully with each other and bringing life and character to each song. Listening to these well-trained, full voices can permanently spoil a person from the pale imitators of karaoke.
The three take turns dabbling in Sinatra's playlist, sometimes as soloists, sometimes in duets and other times as trios. They sing musical standards from such productions as "My Pal Joey" and pop songs such as "Somethin' Stupid." DeSare tickled the audience with his piano and vocal performance of "Birth of the Blues," while James performed a spine-tingling rendition of "Old Man River."
Wells, meanwhile, brought animated soul to all her numbers, whether she was crooning, belting or performing vocal jazz gymnastics. She also sported several gorgeous outfits through the evening, making costume changes that captured several different flavors of Sinatra's songs.
Between some of the numbers, the three shared tidbits of Sinatra musical history, focused firmly on his musical influences and achievements while giving scant attention to his personal life. "Our Sinatra" celebrates the artist, not the man. This is no expose, nor is it biographical. Rather it is a look at the variety of music that he released from the '40s to the '80s.
The second act wraps up with a lengthy number they dubbed "Mother of All Medleys." It was a fun piece that skipped through his songs with wild abandon, sometimes singing a verse, sometimes just a line or two.
"Our Sinatra" succeeds in what it sets out to do, for it is a high-class celebration hosted by a talented crew. Those who love Sinatra will want to make sure they get their ticket soon, for this is a tribute that is loving and worthy of the man it honors.
SHOW DETAILS: "Our Sinatra" continues at Mason Street Warehouse, 400 Culver St., Saugatuck, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday-Sunday through Aug. 12, plus Monday, Aug. 6. Tickets: $36-$39.75. For information: 269-857-2399 or www.sc4a.org.
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