Smooth Sinatra in “My Way” at Cinnabar

I spent an enjoyable Saturday afternoon immersed in the musical world of Frank Sinatra, courtesy of Cinnabar Theater. Four fine performers backed by a live trio deliver a significant number of Sinatra’s greatest hits from the American standard canon. Organized and given connectivity by David Grapes and Todd Olson, “My Way: a Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” regales us with classic tunes spanning Sinatra’s five-decade career, as well as dipping into some lesser-known tunes from the 1300+ songs he recorded.

There’s no celebrity impersonation in this revue, which I was grateful for– too often those turn out cringe-worthy, suffering comparison with our glowing memory of the real personage. Instead, four talented vocalists– Carolyn Bacon, Rocky Blumhagen, Desiree Goyette-Bogas, and Mark Robinson– give us their own renditions of these favorites, paying homage to Sinatra but not trying to imitate him or his style. Song stylists in their own right, they sometimes take turns within a song, sometimes perform solo, and sometimes surprise us with a duet or quartet, rendering much-loved tunes in beautiful, blended harmony. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like the harmony treatment– but the judicious arrangements and the blended voices are so pleasing the effect is a delightful enhancement of the tunes.
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L-R: Mark Robinson, Carolyn Bacon, Desiree Goyette-Bogas, and Rocky Blumhagen

After some initial perkiness that smacks a bit too much of over-the-top musical theatre, the performers fall into the more relaxed, cool-jazz style of smooth standards, as if we are in a smoky cafe in Manhattan or L.A.  Indeed, the Cinnabar stage area is transformed into a semblance of such a cafe (without the smoke), and the house includes small drink tables every few seats– presumably a concept engineered by director Jennifer King and scenic designer Wayne Hovey, to good effect.

The first act includes more lesser-known songs, and they’re a lot of fun, and then ends with a nice nod to Sinatra’s later career. Act two packs a wallop with more of the big blockbuster hits, given great arrangements appropriate to the numbers. Oddly enough, as you hear these contemporary performers knocking out a song, you feel somehow transported, as if hearing Sinatra’s voice simultaneously in your head– being reminded of what a great song it was when Sinatra recorded it for posterity and not feeling in the least cheated. It’s a strange kind of stereo magic, and totally works.

No review of the show would be complete without mentioning the trio of musicians playing backup– Cesar Cancino, who is also the show’s music director, does a mean jazz piano; teamed with Jan Martinelli on bass and Randy Hood on drums. Seamless, unobtrusive and yet standout. Would love to hear them any time…

Set by Hovey and lighting by Peter Parish work well together, and provide opportunities for movement and isolation. Costuming by Ellen Howes is better in Act Two than Act One, but always suitable for the style of the show. Director King does a nice job keeping the show moving and varied, for visual interest and focus.

As I exited into the waning afternoon sunshine, I overheard one patron saying to her friend, “That was the best entertainment I’ve ever seen in my life.” I’d wager the content, of those terrific songs and the context of Sinatra’s career, had a lot to do with that remark– but the performers certainly brought it alive with verve and finesse, making for a thoroughly satisfying experience.

I hear it’s selling out for its final weekend– don’t delay.
Cinnabar Theater – My Way: a Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra
Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. $25–$45. 707-763-8920. Through January 14.

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