"Sinatra: His Voice. His World. His Way" had a two-week run at Music Hall ending last week and will soon be visiting other American cities, returning to New York in February. Pre-opening publicity roused fears that the show might be a ghoulish experience for audiences, with a technologically reincarnated Ol' Blue Eyes seeming to dance with the Music Hall's Rockettes by some three-dimensional holographic magic that would make him seem virtually alive.
Instead, the 90-minute production is based on movie film clips, late 1950s TV appearances, and blow-ups of still photographs innovatively exhibited on 40-foot high panels by means of the latest image projection technology. The photo imagery is augmented by live performances on stage by a splendid cast of actors, musicians and dancers in a drop-dead chic black-and-white setting.
The show produced by Radio City Entertainment is more tastefully conceived than Nat "King" Cole's posthumous duets with his daughter, Natalie, which she devised a few years ago. It has the blessing of the family Sinatra sired by his first wife, Nancy, and their full cooperation including permission to use Sinatra's own film archives and home movies of informal performances. His daughter, Tina, and a granddaughter, AJ Azzarto, offer commentary on film and Azzarto acted as production consultant.
"Sinatra" doesn't shy away from such aspects of the singer's legend as his womanizing, drinking, associations with the Mafia, and bad-tempered vengefulness, but it doesn't emphasize them either, preferring to point out that he was married for 48 years altogether, was a loving father, and could be hugely generous. There are plenty of reference to Sinatra's second wife, Ava Gardner, but no mention of his last two wives, Mia Farrow and Barbara Marx.
For a live emcee, "Sinatra" has jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, a charismatic protégé of Sinatra's whose trio opened Sinatra's last grand tour of Europe in the late 1980s. Pizzarelli couldn't be better, bringing static film images to life on stage by wearing a jauntily tilted fedora as Sinatra did and assuming the singer's affable performance manner that included a lot of finger-snapping. He is real showman and the show's greatest asset.
In contrast the towering puppets recreating Sinatra and his Rat Pack -- Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop -- seem a little heavy-handed, although the puppeteers who control their movements are clever enough at their art. There also are acrobats who play the roles of the American astronauts involved in the 1969 lunar landing, bobbing about weightlessly while a filmed Sinatra floats among projections of clouds crooning "Fly Me to the Moon."
Other special effects include a shower of copper-colored, coin-sized confetti over the audience and actors descending to the stage parachute-style clutching umbrellas during a rendition of "Pennies from Heaven." For big sound effects there is a 40-member orchestra and a 20-voice choir that provides the show's most exhilarating moment, singing gospel backup for Sinatra's rendition of "That's Life."
The Rockettes are called upon to do more individual acting and perform more off-beat choreography by Casey Nicholaw than are required for their usual Music Hall appearances, but they are given one spectacular line-up across the great stage to dance in awe-inspiring synchronization that is their trademark. They can make an audience that only paid $95 tops for seats feel like a million bucks.
That can't be said of many shows just a block away on Broadway, but "Sinatra" is a show put together by masters of the entertainment arts.
The overall creative director is Des McAnuff, a Broadway legend who co-authored "The Who's Tommy," and the show's narration was written by Colman deKay, a prolific movie-television writer making his New York stage debut. The production team includes Robert Brill, scenery, Howell Binkley, lighting, and Gregg Barnes, costumes. Michael Curry, who designed he puppets for "The Lion King," is credited with the Rat Pack effigies.