The stars were out in force for the world premiere of the new musical Sinatra At The London Palladium. The black tie and the red carpet seemed entirely appropriate given everyone was there to watch the King of Cool himself, Mr Frank Sinatra. Though he died in 1998, this musical truly gives audiences the chance to watch The Voice perform once more, and everyone seemed suitably in awe. Caroline Bishop dodged the red carpet and snuck in to catch a glimpse of the man himself…
Sinatra made his British debut on the stage of the London Palladium in 1950. Over half a century later, he’s back. The creators of this show, directed by David Leveaux, have done everything they can to make it feel as if Sinatra himself really is on stage, and they’ve certainly got as close as possible. Using footage of his performances throughout his career, Sinatra’s image is projected on giant screens that move about the stage as he sings his famous songs. But these aren’t grainy images dusted off from the archives and out of sync with crackly sound; rather the image quality is amazingly enhanced, at some points vividly three-dimensional, and Sinatra’s voice is as clear as if he was in fact on stage.
Frank is accompanied by 20 dancers, choreographed by Stephen Mear, who complement, but do not dominate, his singing. On occasion they sing with him, memorably on the showstopping That’s Life, and also on Somethin’ Stupid, when cast member Emma Woods sings the harmony to Sinatra’s vocals. At times the cast are also projected on to the screens alongside Frank, further integrating his performance with theirs and closing the gap between reality and computer imagery. A live swing band, infectiously led by Musical Director John Rigby, completes the picture on stage.
The show is not simply a collection of Sinatra’s famous songs. His life story is told, in his own funny and frank (no pun intended) words, and the songs are cleverly ordered, as though each was written to reflect a part of his life – I Get A Kick Out Of You and I’ve Got You Under My Skin are sung to images of two of his four wives Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow. Watching footage of Sinatra’s truly epic life makes you realize what a pivotal period of history he lived through and contributed to – his friendship with John F Kennedy being one example. Sinatra’s narration covers his Rat Pack partnership with Sammy and Dean at the Sands Resort in Las Vegas, his Oscar win for From Here To Eternity and his relationship with first wife Nancy and their three children.
His two most famous hits, New York, New York and My Way come near the end, with the words of My Way summing up the man’s life aptly, and rather poignantly, after all the audience has just seen. But the show is topped and tailed by two fabulously upbeat numbers – Come Fly With Me and Fly Me To The Moon, giving the impression that Sinatra has flown in from some far off place to entertain us, and now he’s off. Having a moment of unashamed sentimentality (it’s quite emotional you know), I’d like to think that’s what he did.
Sinatra’s daughter Nancy and granddaughter AJ Azzarto, who have been integral to the development of the show, joined director David Leveaux on stage at the end of this press night, and it was clear from Nancy’s emotional reaction that she thought her father would be pretty chuffed to be back on stage at the London Palladium in such an impressive way. The wiz kids behind the projections and sound have made it possible, the cast and band have made it vivid, but the star of the show, as it should be, is Frank.