Sinatra at the London Palladium
Review by Philip Fisher
Anybody who thinks that they will enjoy themselves at this Sinatra extravaganza almost certainly will. It is a chance to wallow in Frank for the best part of two-and-a-half-hours, while at the same time enjoying a high quality event of the kind that the Palladium is renowned for.
Anglo-American director David Levaux, who is now the darling of Broadway, has chosen London for the world premiere of what can only be described as an extraordinary labour of love, bringing back to stage life a much-loved legend.
Sinatra at the London Palladium works (or doesn't) on many different levels. Its main selling point is the apparent presence of the late Francis Albert Sinatra himself on stage almost throughout the 140 minutes (165 on opening night).
The visual techniques will be familiar to habitués of rock concerts. Whether it be Elton John, Madonna or Coldplay's Chris Martin the star is normally too far away to see and therefore one has to resort to gigantic video screens showing the superstar in action. The principle here is little different.
On a number of moving video screens, the man of the moment sings his heart out and, thanks to the enhancement of the computer technologists, the 25 ft-high star often looks hardly less realistic than the dancers performing in front of him.
This takes some getting used to as, having watched a serviceable dance routine, suddenly big Frank towers over us singing Come Fly With Me.
The concept then takes the form of an inverted karaoke night. Instead of recorded music and live singing, the Big Band, 24 strong under the control of flamboyant conductor Gareth Valentine, are very much alive and playing their hearts out on stage, while it is the singer who is recorded. This is a source of one minor problem, since despite what must be a great deal of cleaning up, the sound quality of many of the recordings is often a little short of the perfection that an MP3 and CD generation might demand.
Having got used to the towering presence of the legend floating around the stage you can begin to enjoy the show. The singer (not crooner) remains in black-and-white well past the interval and only after he visibly ages does colour appear, first painted into The Lady Is a Tramp and then offering the real Ol' Blue Eyes commencing with Send in the Clowns.
While all of this is going on behind them, the seriously talented troupe of singing dancers, several of them with high-quality classical dance training, give their all in a magnificently choreographed performance courtesy of Stephen Mear. Most get solo moments of glory but it is probably unfair to single out one member of a twenty strong team whose main strength is their ability to work together.
The songs are held together by a script written by Bill Zehme, which provides a biography of the singer, supported by voice-overs and lengthy video clips including the star's mutual fascination with JFK, topped by an embarrassing campaign song, and his uncomfortable denial of involvement with the Mafia.
On a lighter note and clearly much to the audience's delight, there is a small section that centres on his membership of a rather more benign organisation, the Rat Pack, with appearances by pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior. The text also begins to form a history of the century in which Sinatra lived, giving much scope for the talents of costume designer, Laura Hopkins, never better than in 1960s Mary Quant mode.
Extra razzmatazz is provided by designer Tom Pye who ensures that, with the exception of the videos, vibrant colour is used throughout, never more so than in some Andy Warholish reproductions of photographs of glamorous dames.
The evening builds to an inevitable finale when following thirty or so other Sinatra hits, New York, New York gives way to a relaxed rendition of My Way, at which point we all face the final curtain, but not before a stream of enthusiastically received encores.
This is the world premiere of Sinatra at ...... Since Frank Sinatra has such a devoted (and affluent) following, it would be churlish to bet against the London Palladium being succeeded by Caesar's Palace, or a major Broadway house at some time in the not-too-distant future.