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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2005

Rep's Sinatra production has nearly perfect pitch

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Frank Sinatra once explained his success in three words: "Sing great songs."

And how! Listening to two hours of the songs he recorded (about 1,300) is proof of his skill at selecting strong melodies with wonderful lyrics. Many of the tunes are so recognizable, you'll find yourself humming along with the four actors who enthusiastically belt out solos, duets, and quartet harmonies.

My Way, A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra is a revue at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre through April 3. Most of the five dozen songs are clustered into beefy medleys with a shared theme, such as the moon, cities, love and marriage, summer, and Broadway.

The swanky set, with three geometric back drops, a bar at one side and a table for two at the other, has an Art Deco feel. And a 1950s-style chrome microphone on a stand is the perfect centerpiece. On an elevated platform, a drummer, pianist, and bassist in formal attire provide delicious accompaniment.

The singers/actors - Maribeth Hill, John Hopkins, Zachary Lahey, and Janna Ravel - exchange abundant good chemistry. They lend the show the requisite casual, cabaret feel, sometimes chatting up the audience under the direction of Hopkins, who does double duty here. They have learned a whopping number of lyrics, and on opening night were proficient, if a little stiff, at lobbing stanzas back and forth dozens of times. There are also some pretty good dance steps, choreographed by the same Hopkins. Song and dance are likely to become even more fluid as the actors get into the groove over the next two weekend performances.

All four are seasoned actors with good voices, but none have quite the reach to hit the highest and lowest notes in several songs. That's the challenge for any community theater group mounting this production created by David Grapes and Todd Olson, who have collaborated on three other musical reviews - Christmas Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Johnny Mercer.

More than most professional crooners, when Sinatra sang it seemed effortless, which was underscored by his nonchalant poise. In fact, he had extraordinary vocal and phrasing talent.

And did you know that the leader of the Rat Pack sometimes sang 100 songs a day in his early years? And he swam hundreds of laps a week to strengthen his breathing control? Such are the nuggets tossed out between medleys, including a quote in which Sinatra calls himself, ".●.●.● an 18-carat manic depressive."

This is a mellow way to spend an early spring evening. You're likely to leave eager to track down a Sinatra recording to refresh your memory of just how marvelous Ol' Blue Eyes was.

"My Way, A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra" is scheduled in the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 10th St., at 8 p.m. March 25, 26, and 31 and April 1 and 2. An April 3 matinee will be at

2:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors and students. Information: 419-243-9277.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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