This week I have seen two famous Wulfrunians. On Monday I saw a play about Wolverhampton’s most famous cook Nigel Slater and last night Sinatra: Raw starring the wonderfully charismatic Richard Shelton. With Wolverhampton Wanderers back in the Premier League clearly there is something of a renaissance in the famous old Black country city. Richard Shelton is Sinatra. He has got him off to a T. He looks, acts and sings like Sinatra. Shelton is Sinatra as SING-ART-RA. A monologue interspersed with singing this is a Songalogue, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Accompanied by nothing more than a pianist, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a microphone, Richard Shelton brings Ol’ Blue Eyes miraculously to life. Albert Einstein said that a hour with a beautiful girl feels like 5 minutes. Well I can pay Richard Shelton no greater compliment than this: he passed Einstein’s test with flying colours. Nobody wanted to leave Wilton’s Music Hall last night. The atmosphere was electric – you could have cut it with a knife. Shelton is so charming, so convincing, so compelling. It’s an evening that sends you home full of joy and optimism. And to experience it in the surroundings of the oldest surviving music hall in the world, a venue so important that it is on the World Monuments Watch list, well quite simply it doesn’t get any better. Go.
Shelton mixes monologue and song. The monologue is superb. The accent is spot on. The mannerisms are precise. Finger clicking, the wink and tongue click, the pointing out of individuals in the audience, the parting of the hair, the suit and dickie bow he gets it all exactly so. He convinces. This is Sinatra, we are with him in the Palm Springs Hotel, California at 2am as he drinks at the bar and reminisces. The stories he tells are funny, surprising and moving. He talks about his birth being the motivation for his life long struggle as he tell show the nurse had left him for dead until his grandma had the presence of mind to throw cold water over him and shock him back into life. His one-liners are terrific. “You know what I like about the press? Nothing/ Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one.” Louis B Meyer on first seeing Ava ‘The Body Gardner’- “She can’t sing, she can’t act, she can’t dance, she’s sensational. Hire her.” He tells the story of his relationship with Ava Gardner, the love of his life most movingly.
These stories are riveting but it’s the singing which really brings the evening to life. Shelton knows every song – he can sing any of them in any order. At the end he takes requests from the audience and by the way he just spontaneously responds you know that this is someone who has immersed himself in the life and work of Sinatra to the highest possible degree. Shelton recreates the magic of Palm Springs by pointing out members of the audience and introducing them as if they really were Cary Grant or Sophia Loren. And it works. Winningly, Shelton brings out Sinatra’s sense of humour and self-awareness. For example when a member of the audience asks for Strangers in the Night he comes back with “do you know what it’s like to have every asshole come up to humming do be do do be do be ?” Very funny. But then when he does sing Strangers in the Night it simply blows you away. All the greatest hits are sung if not all the way through then snippets or just enough. But that’s fine because he saves his time for the best. New York, New York, Chicago, The Lady is a Tramp, Send in the Clowns, Fly me to the Moon, Moonlight in Vermont but of course he saves the best to last: My Way. Shelton takes the applause and does it his way. Marvellous, magical and mesmerising.
Review by John O’Brien
Richard Shelton’s masterful show revealing the man behind the music returns to London following a sell-out premiere season at Crazy Coqs and two acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe seasons.
You are invited to Palm Springs, California, 1971. Frank Sinatra faces retirement. The air is electric and the crowd jockey for position at Sinatra’s last intimate show. But times are changing as the Rolling Stones and David Bowie dominate the charts. Sinatra’s blue eyes are bloodshot and his face craggy with booze, cigarettes and memories. Things take an unexpected turn when he drinks ‘One for My Baby’ too many.
This is the 2am Sinatra you dream of meeting. Dangerous. Unpredictable. Brilliant.
Wilton’s Music Hall
London E1 8JB
(22 October – 2 November)
Written and performed by Richard Shelton
Presented by James Seabright by arrangement with Mike Leigh for MLA Talent