When regular cast-member Eric Comstock decided to take a two-week vacation from the Off-Broadway cabaret show, Our Sinatra, the producers opted for a nightspot notable to fill in. They turned to Billy Stritch, whose CDs include "Waters of March" and "Jazz Live," and who has performed at such venues as the Royal Albert Hall (UK) and Carnegie Hall. Stritch, a longtime friend and colleague of Liza Minnelli, also served as vocal arranger for Broadway's Minnelli on Minnelli.
Stritch took over in Sinatra July 11 and ends his two-week stint in the show, July 26. Comstock returns July 28, according to a production spokesperson at the Tony Origlio press office.
Sitting comfortably at the Blue Angel Theatre since Dec. 8, 1999, Our Sinatra, a tribute to tunes made popular by Ol' Blue Eyes, is produced by Scott Perrin, who also produced the long running (until Feb. 21) Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know. He told Playbill On-Line in February that the show had "nibbles from Vegas and other venues, and certainly cast recording interest," but royalties may get in the way of the latter.
"RCA Victor has expressed serious interest," Perrin said, "but paying mechanical royalties on 53 songs makes it almost prohibitive to record. We're moving very carefully, since this is a unique stumbling block many shows don't have." Perrin went on to explain that licensing songs for use in a show is a lot different than that for a permanent recording. He noted that clubs such as the Blue Angel, the Algonquin, the Ibis (home of Smart Traveler), Don't Tell Mama, etc., invariably pay a blanket licensing fee that allows performers to walk in the door and be able to sing most pop standards, since the venue itself is essentially "covered." Nonetheless, Perrin hopes the recording issues will resolve and expects regional mountings to develop soon.
Our Sinatra, officially opened Dec. 19, 1999 and, by mid-March, had racked up an advance sale of more than $100,000. Supervised by Richard Maltby Jr. (Fosse, Ain't Misbehavin') and directed by Kurt Stamm, the performer-conceived production, which began previews Dec. 8, is a tour of some 50 songs (full tunes and medley versions) associated with Frank Sinatra, from "Witchcraft" to "Time After Time" to "These Foolish Things," and more. Our Sinatra started as an August 1999 cabaret show (seen at the famed Algonquin Oak Room), conceived and performed by pianist Eric Comstock, vocalists Gines and Kole. Stamm and Maltby helped shape this version, making some cuts and adding a couple of different tunes.
Stamm told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 8, 1999) that the production celebrates some of the lesser-played Sinatra works, rather than ubiquitous hits such as "New York, New York."
"We're steering clear of the stuff that is so cliched," said Stamm, "but there are hints of the hits in some places. It's more about digging in and finding the hidden gems, finding the orphan songs that weren't known until he recorded them." Consequently, listen for "These Foolish Things," "To Love and Be Loved," "Without a Song" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?"
Stamm, who is an artistic associate of Maltby's, first heard the trio when popular song historian Jonathan Schwartz recommended the performers for a Maltby-directed tribute to Jimmy Van Heusen in the Lincoln Center "American Songbook" series in October.
Designers for Our Sinatra are Alan Moyer (sets), Jeffrey Nellis (lighting) and Matt Berman (sound). Expect tuxedos and an evening dress for costumes. Producers are Jack Lewin and Scott Perrin.
Tickets to the show, which was embraced by critics in its earlier form, are $50-$80.
The Blue Angel is at 323 W. 44th St. in Manhattan. Call (212) 239-6200 for tickets.
-- By David Lefkowitz
and Kenneth Jones