Reviews For Friends #21: Frank Sinatra Jr. and Orchestra, Sinatra Sings Sinatra - Symphony Hall Birmingham
This review was originally written for The Public Reviews
He did it Dad’s way
In a UK tour that joins a series of global tributes and re-releases in celebration of the iconic entertainer’s centennial, Frank Sinatra Jr. promises to show us the real man behind the legend.
Now 71, Sinatra Jr. has toured the world as a singer for half a century, spending the past two decades performing his father’s classic songbook in the show Sinatra Sings Sinatra, now revamped into a multimedia affair. Photos and videos form the backdrop to a considered playlist of songs that Sinatra Jr. uses, alongside a personal narrative of first hand recollections, to tell his father’s story.
The show opens with a rousing instrumental melody of some of the hits, and the 20-piece orchestra certainly has that ol’ blue eyes swagger - all bow ties and blaring horns. But the staging is unexpectedly pared back, with just a hint of cabaret lighting. There’s a strange moment when the projector, looming large at the back of the stage, abruptly lurches into life and the multimedia element of the show commences - stills images of cityscapes set to the grating sounds of a wireless radio tuning. Frank Jr.‘s entrance, when it comes, is also a little offbeat - appearing as he does from within the orchestra in an amusing Hitchcockian move.
It’s a slow start. All Or Nothing At All fails to get the (largely elderly) audience going, and as the first half continues the increasingly amateurish media seems more to distract than it does enrich the performance. Poorly re-sized images of Frank Snr. are juxtaposed with social history footage and bizarre mock-ups of newspaper articles from throughout Sinatra’s career. All overlaid with garish fonts, it feels as though you are watching a YouTube fan video.
Fortunately, this surprising unprofessionalism does not extend to Sinatra Jr. himself. An entertainment veteran, he is able to carry the show and the audience drink him in. He takes a little time to warm up - perhaps a few nerves rendering him clinical at first. But after the intermission he is cracking jokes and belting out big hitters such as World On A String and High Hopes in those gorgeous deep tones and vibrating vowels that we all know and love - the likeness to his father in a commanding rendition of Come Fly With Me is a particularly good guilty pleasure.
As far as big revelations and insights go - no, there are none of those. What Sinatra Jnr. brings us is actually something much more rewarding - a genuine and touching portrayal of a father who dedicated his life to 'honest music’, and of a son who has lived a life in his shadow.
The highlight of the show is an intimate sharing of family album photos from across the decades, as Frank Jr. serenades us with When I was 17. The homemade graphics even feel appropriate by the evening’s end. The audience stand to their feet - and that’s no mean feat.