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A CurtainUp London Review
Sinatra at the London Palladium
Of course Stephen Mear's choreography has a lot to do with the musical's success. In a tribute to Bob Fosse's Chicago the show opens with a skyscraper backdrop, men in suits and Homburg hats, long legged girls in suit jackets and fishnets. Sinatra himself is projected on a large screen, several times life size with all the original background cut out. It is surprisingly intimate, an intense experience as if he is singing to you alone. An enormous wing section from a jet appears for the dancers to mount and the song switches to "Come Fly With Me"?
Sinatra's biography is then told with lots of archived black and white and sepia photographs of the house where he was born and his remarkable life story from the first moment when his grandmother, refusing to believe that he was born dead, slapped life into him. "Pennies From Heaven" is accompanied by dancers with white umbrellas and the photographic images are projected onto a grouping of these umbrellas which gives a wonderful visual effect as the shapes take on the curves of the umbrellas. There are radio interviews with Frank to add detail and personal reminiscence.
We segue into the big band era and Benny Goodman's wonderful tunes with the brass section of the orchestra coming to the fore. As Sinatra starts to mix with the beautiful women of Hollywood, chiffon curtains tumble from the full height of the Palladium stage and give a floaty backdrop for the projected images of screen goddesses. The shots of Ava Gardner are simply beautiful, elegant, gorgeous, how could he not have fallen in love with her? The mood shifts to Sinatra's family life with home movie shots of his children and the tune, "You're Nobody Until Somebody Loves You" The first act ends on the high as Sinatra is awarded an Oscar for his film performance in From Here to Eternity.
The Second Act opens with the Swinging Sixties, some mini-skirted chicks in op art dresses, one with an Afro hairstyle with film of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis who, with Sinatra, formed the Rat Pack. Then the archive film material takes us through the Mafia imbroglio and then to the Kennedy assassination. All this gives a fine sense of period. Peace demonstrators hold giant white balloons which are used as projection backgrounds, again to stunning effect. The archive film becomes Technicolour but in a homage to the screen goddesses in black and white, stills of Monroe, Shirley MacLaine, Elizabeth Taylor and others turn into Warhol type prints with gashes of primary colour like the artist's set of Monroe prints. The moving "Send in the Clowns" becomes a tribute to the Kennedys.
The recordings are contemporary with the Sinatra hits and the through the film footage we see Sinatra mature. The sound of his voice is just perfection and quite how they cut in the live band I cannot fathom, but it works. A list of all the songs follows this review but I think everyone's favourite will be there.
Each scene has Stephen Mear's fascinating set piece choreography as well as the drop down Sinatra screen which changes position on the stage for variety. Sometimes a live singer will sing a duet with the Sinatra image, often there is a solo dancer who breaks away from the chorus line, occasionally live dancers will emerge from a projected image. The dancers mingle too with the orchestra who are staged up at the rear of the stage so that the movement of violin bows form part of the choreography. I think the design is innovative and exciting. David Leveaux has crafted an amazing show. Although I found Sinatra's songs pleasant, I wouldn't have counted myself especially a Sinatra fan before seeing this show . . . but I do now!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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