The suspension of disbelief element of this show means the audience has been transported to The Purple Room in Palm Springs in 1971. Put aside, therefore, that a year ago in London, a tribute production called The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas played at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, a comfortable walking distance from Live at Zedel (it would take longer to descend into the London Underground at Piccadilly Circus and resurface at Charing Cross), or that there are, in this day and age, quite a few ‘Frank Sinatra’ acts out there. I am sure many of them are worth seeing for fans of Ol’ Blue Eyes.
This production, Sinatra: RAW, is one of those shows that’s all over too quickly. Richard Shelton, who reveals his true self after the curtain call, apparently because the venue told him to, takes the audience on a journey through many of Sinatra’s most well-known songs, with considerable amounts of storytelling to go with it. I’m a great believer in being able to see a show without having done any ‘homework’ (or having to do any afterwards) – a production should be understood by someone seeing it without knowing anything about it beforehand. This show passes that test with flying colours.
Sinatra, of course, was and still is a well-known public figure. But there are people entering the workforce now who weren’t born when he died in 1998, and the finer details of the show’s narrative (this is really a play with songs, not a jukebox musical) prove to be enlightening for the younger members of the audience, as well as a memory trigger for those a little older. Now, I was advised by a friend who had seen the show at the Edinburgh Fringe that I should, at some point, shut my eyes and just listen to Shelton’s singing voice in the show: one really can then imagine Sinatra himself being in the room. Shelton has good stage presence, too, so no shut-eye for this reviewer, but I quite agree that the delivery of the songs is spot on.
Thanks to his front row ‘friend’ Jack Daniels (geddit?) this Frank Sinatra gradually loosens up. What begins as banter with the audience slowly turns into an insightful portrait of Sinatra’s off-stage (and off-screen) life. It all sounds incredibly fresh, as though Sinatra were thinking out loud there and then. Every so often, it genuinely is unscripted – when Shelton’s Sinatra called out for audience requests at the performance I attended, someone wanted something relatively obscure, leading to some added banter while Shelton got the words right in his mind.
This sort of thing naturally adds to the evening’s entertainment. The observant audience members will have picked up that while Sinatra’s first wife Nancy and second wife Ava Gardner were talked about at length, the show dispenses with even mentioning third wife Mia Farrow. With details about the songs as well as Sinatra’s politics, this is a full-bodied and well-researched production. Touches of bitterness and blissfulness shine through in a brief but nonetheless most enjoyable and entertaining evening.
Review by Chris Omaweng
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.
2-6, 8-13, 15-20 JANUARY (EXCEPT 18) | 7PM (3PM WEEKEND MATINEE PERFORMANCES)
James Seabright presents Richard Shelton in
This run at Crazy Coqs marks the London premiere following a sold-out Edinburgh Fringe season.