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.

Transcendence Brings the Celebration Home

Sunday afternoon December 3rd I had the pleasure of attending Transcendence Theatre’s Holiday Show at the newly re-opened Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, and by pleasure I mean a rocking, soulful, merry, fun, energized and spirited two hours of fabulous entertainment. I’m sorry I can’t recommend that you see it, since it’s closed now, but if you haven’t yet discovered the treasure that is Transcendence, hopefully I can inspire you to make it to the next show.

Transcendence Theatre has been around long enough now (since 2011) to have a track record, and that means award-winning solid entertainment, whether in their cherished outdoor venue at Jack London park or at the LBC or elsewhere. Imported Broadway stars perform alongside professional locals, directed and choreographed by top-notch teams to deliver first-rate performances. Often the material is adapted or creatively re-imagined to give it a kind of Transcendence snap, or to showcase particular talent.

In this show, that means lively renditions of a Fezziwig party ala Dickens, new lyrics for “Big Spender” for modern shopping fatigue, and a delightful version of “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” from Spamalot, It also means heartfelt classics such as “The Christmas Song” sung by Courtney Markowitz, or “Blue Christmas” by Colin Campbell McAdoo. Act One ends with a rousing full-company take on “We Need a Little Christmas,” that felt all too relevant in light of recent events.

Act Two demonstrates the breadth of talent on stage as the company surprises us with a choral arrangement of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” adapted by Matt Smart, making it fresh for a new season. “Soul Cake,” sung by the trio of Beth Kirkpatrick, Courtney Markowitz and Joey Khoury is likely to keep you humming it later. But then Kirkpatrick turns on a dime and delivers one of the funniest musical skits I’ve seen, partnering with Philip Dean Lightstone in “12 DAZE of Christmas” as arranged and orchestrated by Alejandro Senior. Wine tasting has never been this much fun! What a hoot!

The rest of the show moves from one soulful number to the next, including a show-stopping version of “Rise Up,” sung by David R. Gordon and Shaleah Adkisson, while accompanied by interpreter Sandy McLennon, who signed the uplifting song for hearing-impaired audience members, but for all of us, too. The effect was mesmerizing, and had the entire audience on its feet in seconds at the end. More standing O’s ensued with a stellar delivery of “The Prayer,” performed by Julie Craig, and what might be the company’s theme song, “Spread the Love Around,” in a heart-stirring finale. Kudos to director Tony Gonzalez and his production team for building the show’s mood and wow factor to create a wonderfully satisfying experience.

The company filled the LBC with capacity crowds all last weekend, and Artistic Director Amy Miller also let us know that over 1000 tickets had been given away so that first responders and others impacted by the Sonoma County fires could attend the show. Additionally 5% of the proceeds were set aside for recovery efforts. Miller and her husband Brad Surosky (co-executive director of the company) live in Glen Ellen and had to quickly evacuate their home in the early hours of Oct. 9; their home was spared, but their empathy for the community is real and runs deep, and plays out in the mission of Transcendence and the big heart that is so palpable in their shows.  They have also developed the “Rise Up & Recover Fund” to help support the communities of Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Santa Rosa and Sonoma. Proceeds will help to support fire victims, evacuees and first responders. To donate or for more information visit http://www.RiseUpAndRecover.org

Experiencing this big, bold holiday musical extravaganza, I felt my holiday season was truly launched; but more than that, I felt held in the arms of a caring, committed community, immersed in good intentions and a well-pitched call to action. So, don’t miss the next one. And have a terrific season of whatever you celebrate.

For more information about Transcendence: https://transcendencetheatre.org

P. S. Like so many, I had heard the horrible rumor that the LBC was burning down in the tragic fires; but thankfully, it was mostly spared, and this show at the Center was indeed a way to applaud the Phoenix rising from the ashes. LBC did sustain fire damage, so if you’re inclined to help with its repair, check out their webpage that details the extent of the damages and what you can do to help:  https://lutherburbankcenter.org/lbc-fire-recovery-fund/