Despite the recent extravaganza Sinatra: His Voice. His World. His Way at Radio City Music Hall, which celebrated the life of Frank Sinatra by mixing a live orchestra with rare rehearsal film footage of its star along with dozens of dancers and even a murky hologram (evoking Sinatra’s ghost?), it’s been a little three-person cabaret show called Our Sinatra that has proved to be the most durable and dynamic legs of the great singer’s legend. After racking up nearly 1,100 performances at the Algonquin, the Blue Angel and Dillon’s, Our Sinatra—which also recently completed a 60-city national tour—has returned to the Big Apple for a limited engagement through Jan. 31, 2004, at Birdland (315 West 44th Street).
As directed with a sure and stylish hand by Kurt Stamm, Our Sinatra currently stars original New York cast member Hilary Kole, plus Tony DeSare and Adam James, who joins the act after having the distinction of being hand-picked by Tina Sinatra to portray her father in the show Sinatra Remembered at Canada’s Montreal Casino.
Certainly Sinatra’s impact on the American songbook—not to mention the larger pop culture—has been indelible. But what is it about Our Sinatra that has made it such a successful theatrical experience? “The secret to these shows is that they’ve got something else going on other than the sequence of songs,” says Our Sinatra’s production supervisor Richard Maltby Jr. As the man who won a Tony Award for directing the landmark revue Ain’t Misbehavin’—depicting the life and times of the composer/performer Fats Waller—the guy knows a thing or two about the genre. Prior to his work on the aforementioned show, as well as the revue he directed and co-wrote with David Shire, Starting Here, Starting Now, Maltby recalls, “It was unthinkable to do a musical revue without connecting dialogue. Everyone kept saying, ‘How will you hold it together?’ And I said, it would be held together with the internal content of the numbers of the evening.” Furthermore, Maltby adds, “With a group of terrific songs, wonderfully performed quite simply, you get a dramatic effect. It’s a tremendous act of faith and confidence,” he continues, “in the audience’s intelligence: Just listening and thinking. But I completely trust that. In fact, I stake the show on it!”
This formula has proven key to getting to the core of a man who, Maltby understands, “meant so many things to so many people. It’s not called Our Sinatra for nothing!” By carefully canvassing the singer’s enormous songbook—from Sinatra’s very first recording (“All or Nothing at All”) to his movie tunes (“My Kind of Town”) as well as his saloon hits (“One for My Baby”) and pop smashes (“Fly Me to the Moon,” “The Lady is a Tramp” and “New York, New York”)—Maltby says, “You give the audience the clues and lead them some place. Collectively,” he trusts, “they put the pieces together. It’s all an attempt to bring to life somebody who doesn’t actually appear on stage. And that’s exactly what Our Sinatra is about.”
—Actor-writer David Drake contributes a monthly column, "The Cabaret Beat," to the Playbill subscription issue.