Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
As his Rat Pack pal Dean Martin once said of Sinatra, “It’s Frank’s world, we just live in it.” The stars of the Frank Sinatra tribute show now playing at the National World War II Museum’s Stage Door Canteen do more than just live in Frank’s world – they define it.
In “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” the David Grapes & Todd Olson production paying tribute to Old Blue Eyes, a group of four singers, backed by a swinging trio, effortlessly and beautifully rattle off nearly 40 of Sinatra’s standards – from A to Z, or at least “All of Me” to “Young at Heart.” Nearly all of your favorites are there – from “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “My Way,” “All the Way” and “You Make Me Feel So Young” to “Strangers in the Night,” “The Best is Yet to Come” and even “High Hopes.”
But the singers are quick to point out that even that long list of songs doesn’t come close to capturing Sinatra in his fullest form. Near the beginning of the show, cast member Clint Johnson explains that Sinatra recorded more than 1,300 songs in his career. “And we’re going to sing all of them for you tonight,” he jokes, prompting a funny protest from his band.
Martini glasses in hand, Johnson and Ryan Fischer are the dashing gentlemen, in their white tuxedos, sharing the stage with two lovely ladies – Cristina Perez and Courtney Boe, both natives of the New Orleans area. All four singers have moments that make this show a hit.
Fischer, a Wisconsin native who moved to New Orleans six years ago to study business at Tulane, says he counts Leah Chase Jr. as one of his musical teachers. It’s easy to see what she’s taught him, as he comes closest to truly embodying the sound of Sinatra in his performance – particularly in his rendition of Sinatra’s 1966 anthem “That’s Life.”
Johnson (who needs to be cast as a young Mickey Rooney in any future World War II-era productions at the Canteen) also doubles as the show’s on stage bartender, since – as the cast points out – Frank enjoyed a drink every now and again, and encouraged others to do the same.
On top of Johnson and the others’ solo performances, the cast’s duets and even group performances are top-notch.
Each of them not only has the vocal talents and range required for a show like this, but they mix in the stage presence that makes their banter light and fun, along with a breezy retelling of the Sinatra history throughout the show, neatly taking us through the different phases of his life and career and summing up his impact. Director Victoria Reed has smartly staged the show to allow for both humor and history mixed with music.
Perez was a past favorite on this same stage last year, channeling Keely Smith in the museum’s recent hit “Jump Jive and Wail.” In this show she even sings a song that Prima and Smith – and Sinatra – made famous: “That Old Black Magic.” She (the brunette) and Boe (the beautiful Veronica Lake blonde) own each Sinatra song they step to the microphone to deliver. Boe, who like Perez has performed as one of the Museum’s Victory Belles, is also a gifted dancer, and those talents are put to good use during several of her numbers (choreographed by Meliah Henry). Boe’s rendition of “My Funny Valentine” is also a standout during a medley of Sinatra songs from Broadway and the movies.
That section of the show is just one of the many neatly-produced segments focusing on different pages of the Sinatra songbook. Another covers his songs about places (“Chicago,” “New York, New York,” “L.A. is My Lady” and more) and a wonderful medley near the end of the show focuses on the moon, with one of the most familiar of Frank’s songs, making it a showstopper as well.
The singers are backed by a terrific trio – Jessie Reeks on piano, Pete Roze on bass and Charlie Kohlmeyer on drums, with musical direction by Tom Hook. Each member of the trio glides quickly from number to number with ease.
The band and singers share a wonderfully-decorated and lit stage – all the work of a local World War II Museum crew, producers pointed out. It’s another feather in the cap of a place that continues to break records and introduce innovations, all while paying tribute to the past.
My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra is playing weekends through May 12 at the National World War II Museum's Stage Door Canteen, 945 Magazine St. Click here or call 504-528-1943 for ticket information. Dinner and Sunday brunch packages with food from Chef John Besh's American Sector are also available.