Call it coincidence. It was intermission at My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra and I was thinking that for the oldest members of the audience — say the 60-year-olds and older — the show must stimulate a lot of recollections. After all, Sinatra was the Beatles of his day, and his songs must have provided the soundtrack to everything from first dates to steamy trysts to third divorces to long drunken nights alone with a scotch and the hi-fi.
Not so for me: I went through grade school with the Fab Four, adolescence with Crosby, Stills and Nash, college with Bruce Springsteen, and I'm presently enamored of Alanis Morissette.
No sooner had I had the thought than the nice white-haired lady sitting beside me bent closer and said, "It's amazing what memories they bring back." She meant the songs, of course. And she was, let's guess, 20 years older than me. Without a doubt, she was having a great time.
And that's my basic estimation of My Way, conceived by Todd Olson and David Grapes, and currently playing at St. Petersburg's Palladium Theatre: It all depends on your birth date. If you're old enough, this just might be the most emotional experience you'll have all year. If you're younger — if your soundtrack's by Dylan or Hendrix or Cobain — your experience will be seriously less important. You'll enjoy the good singing, perhaps, but find the whole experience the slightest bit tedious. After all, this is a show with next to no narration, no real attempt to put songs in context or provide a biography of Sinatra.
The four singers — Jonathan Harrison, Angela Bond, Gary Moss and Amy Blue — are all talented and ingratiating, and the three-piece band of Vince di Mura, Joe Grady and Dave Rudolph couldn't be better. But if you didn't meet your sweetheart to the tune of "Fly Me To The Moon," you might find this celebration a little bit foreign. Yes, sometimes it's enough merely to listen to the lyrics (there are several Cole Porter songs, just right for this happy pastime). But "Strangers in the Night" simply ain't "Purple Haze." And "The Tender Trap" ain't the least bit like "Layla."
The way the show's put together is interesting, though. Olson and Grapes have divided Ol' Blue Eyes' songs into categories — Broadway, Cities, Young Love, Summer and so on — and the four crooners sing medleys that all relate to a single category. Most of the time, we hear only excerpts of tunes, but occasionally we get the whole thing, and in four-part harmony.
There's a minimum of narration, from which we learn that Frankie was manic-depressive, several times married, advised against wearing a tux on Sunday, and said, "An audience is like a broad: If you're indifferent, it's endsville." There's also a minimum of choreography, provided by Eric Davis, and a set which, besides a bar area, is mostly a bandstand (David M. Fillmore, Jr. is the designer). Angela D. Hoerner dresses the quartet in elegant eveningwear, and there's one change of costume, performed at intermission.
My favorite songs? (Boy, this is subjective.) "The Way You Look Tonight," "My Funny Valentine," "Makin' Whoopee," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "New York, New York," and "It Was a Very Good Year." My favorite singer: All of them are skillful, but none has a voice to remind you of The Voice. And, by the way, am I the only person on this blue earth who finds "My Way" — the song, not the show — a rather repulsive egotist anthem?
No matter. If you're old enough, this revue is probably just what you need to evoke those heady days on her breezy front porch swing, or in the back seat of his Chevy, or on the boardwalk that cool night when you two walked arm in arm, and the music from the band shell was Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade."
Remember that? Remember the first time you ever heard "(Love Is) The Tender Trap"?
If you do, you're gonna love this tribute to your generation's superstar.
Mark A. Marple is a 49-year-old theater professional who has recently created Bayshore Productions, Inc., a company devoted to bringing popular comedies and cabarets to the Tampa Bay area. Marple's no neophyte. At various times he's been a film and theater actor, director, producer, lighting and set designer, stage manager and Broadway marketing director. He went back to school a few years ago — as a theater major at the University of South Florida — and now that he's graduated, he's ready to show what he can do for local audiences. His first show (which I saw in dress rehearsal) is James McLure's Lone Star. Marple's already preparing to follow it up with a British comedy, and, if he gets the rights, with a well-liked Christmas play.
Unfortunately, he's chosen for his first offering a terribly minor comedy that even good acting can't redeem. Lone Star takes place behind Angel's Bar, a run-down establishment in Maynard, Texas, where men go to drink too much, get into fights and do whatever else they can to forget their dead-end lives. To this junkyard-like area, tolerably designed by Edward Ross, come Roy and Ray, two brothers, the one lean, tough and dangerous, the other big, soft and slow.
For the first few minutes of the play, Roy drinks and reminisces about his stint in Vietnam, reflects on the fact that a Baby Ruth bar resembles a turd, and recalls a wild night he spent in Bossier City, La. Then Ray's friend Cletis joins the two brothers, and Roy goes back inside. Alone with Ray, Cletis spills the beans: He just took Roy's precious 1959 pink Thunderbird convertible for a joyride and smashed it up irreparably. When Roy finds out, he's going to want to kill Cletis; can't Ray somehow prevent this? More precisely, will Ray take the blame for destroying Roy's beloved car? Roy returns, Cletis hurries away, and we witness a last duet involving Ray and Roy. Then the play's over.
Sound insignificant? Well, it ought to, because it is. And no, there isn't any subtext to add importance to the show, nothing about the disastrous effects of Vietnam on a wounded soul, or the American Dream gone bad, or the cry of blood to blood when trouble threatens to tear brothers apart. What you see in Lone Star is basically what you get: jokes about boozing, and picking up women in bars, and getting into fights over anything at all. There's none of the mythmaking that goes on when Sam Shepard dramatizes the American West; no, this is a play about surfaces. If you don't find the Baby Ruth/turd connection hilarious, you're just going to have to go without because it doesn't get much better than that.
At least the acting is mostly admirable. Best of all is Jack Holloway as Ray, a character who, when push comes to shove, isn't absolutely sure that he's not brain-damaged. Adam Belvo as hapless Cletis is also top-notch (though there's something of the schoolyard in this distinction between jocks and nerds), and Kevin Whalin as Roy does a creditable job as a cowboy with energy to spare and no safe way to expend it.
Debbie Wheatley's costumes are fine, from Roy's black outfit to Cletis' silly cowboy hat. But Ross' sound design — mostly country songs wafting in from the bar when a door opens — needs more calibrating (some additional crowd noises might help, too). Finally, Marple's direction is always well considered.
Still, Marple should consider this: There's more than enough mindless comedy already available on television. We want something better from the theater, something deeper, truer, more nearly unique.
Best of luck to Bayshore Productions. But let's hope that this new company will bring us, in future, something better than Lone Star.
Performance Critic Mark E. Leib can be reached at [email protected].
Lone Star¡Viva La Frida! Cafe y Galeria
5901 N. Florida Ave.
Runs through Aug. 28
8 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank SinatraPalladium Theatre
253 Fifth Ave. N.
Runs through Aug. 15
7:30 p.m. Wed. and Thurs.
8 p.m. Fri. & Sat. and 3 p.m. Sun.