Homage To Olí Blue Eyes
by Rex Reed
Long after you and I are gone, future generations of sociologists studying the baffling contrasts of the human psyche will still be scratching their heads over Frank Sinatra. He was a bully and a thug, a contributor to charitable causes and a smasher of whisky glasses, a gentleman and a swinger drawn with equal fervor to millionaires and goons. He was also the most romantic practitioner of the art of the American popular song, and two years after his death, his influence on a younger generation of singers continues to have a profoundly vigorous effect.
Entertaining proof is currently on view in Our Sinatra, one of last season's freshest cabaret acts at the Algonquin, now resuscitated and expanded into a full-length musical with intermission at the Blue Angel, a nightclub with a concert stage on West 44th Street. This engaging celebration of Ol' Blue Eyes and his most durable songs features an attractive and musically gifted trio composed of Eric Comstock, one of the youthful treasures of New York's vanishing breed of singing saloon pianists, the hip and lovely Hilary Kole, and Christopher Gines, a lanky beanpole crooner who bends ballads like saltwater taffy in a satiny style reminiscent of the boy singers who manned the mikes in the Big Band era of Tommy Dorsey and Harry James. The show is a happy, energetic, witty and tuneful spin on Sinatra's legend, discography and contribution to the American songbook, and a marvelous time is had by all.
From a prolific career that included 1,500 recordings and 58 motion pictures, Our Sinatra distills the essence of the man and his music in 66 songs without making any attempt to imitate him, and the phony idolatry so many New York disk jockeys are guilty of is mercifully absent. A few brief biographical details are provided, but the emphasis is on music, as three intelligent and talented music lovers explore a variety of tempos and moods with a casual, humorous and most rapturous rapport. Even if you're not a Sinatra fan, you'll find it easy to fall under the spells of his songs--and the way these savvy performers sing them. Mr. Comstock plays sure chords and sings with perfect enunciation everything from Cole Porter's lively "You're Sensational" to a ruminative version of one of Sinatra's trademark songs, "Everything Happens to Me," that includes special lyrics written for him when he was in the autumn of his years ("Now I'm chasing rainbows with the losers in the class/ But pal, you don't find rainbows in the bottom of a glass"). The zesty, curvaceous Ms. Kole excels on an up-tempo rendition of "I've Got the World on a String," and the smooth brandy tones of Mr. Gines' easy baritone add luster to a variety of standards, from a lusty "Old Man River" to a seamlessly gossamer "Last Night When We Were Young."
My favorite part of the show is the section devoted to those deep purple
torch songs Sinatra sang at 2 A.M., "In the Wee Small Hours," "One for
My Baby" and "Angel Eyes." And because two hours allows barely enough
time to scratch the surface, there's a cleverly arranged, finger-snapping,
no-time-to-waste killer medley of more than 30 staples from the Sinatra
catalogue that, strangely enough, leaves you cheering for more. Of course the
singer other singers called the Chairman of the Board unloaded his share of
chopped liver, too, and this sophisticated cast tackles "Strangers in the
Night" and "The Summer Wind" with enough parody to prove that hero
worship has definite limitations. Our Sinatra is a fine way to spend an
evening with three musical marvels with more on their minds than noise. They
are sexy, charming and funny, and in the time it takes to down a couple of dry
Manhattans, they will reacquaint you with the most important thing worth
remembering about Frank Sinatra—the songs he sang, enriching us all.
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