Las Vegas Show Review: “Frank: The Man, The Music” (at Palazzo)
Of all impersonations, Frank Sinatra’s might be the toughest to pull off convincingly.
The baritone voice, the tuxedoed savoir faire, the quirky and often comical mannerisms, the working-class New York accent — all these classic Sinatra trademarks are relatively straightforward to copycat with some practice combined with the proper flair.
What isn’t so easy to incorporate is the epochal stage presence and the personal charisma. More like impossible. Like all of our most celebrated musical icons — Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, The Beatles — the tribute shows might look and sound like the real deal, but they never quite spark the same electrifying voltage of atmospheric energy. We’re never quite able to shake the awareness that we’re consuming Spam from a can instead of real meat.
And so, the Palazzo did what it had no other choice but to do, which was go way over the top in hoping to recreate the lavish Frank Sinatra stage experience. That way, enough of our senses might be fooled into accepting the illusion as fact. This meant a thorough replication of what a real Sinatra performance was like back in his heyday of best live performances, most notably to the audience — a virtual wall of sound in the form of a world-class 32-piece orchestra backing and often interacting with the greatest crooner of the 20th Century.
“Frank: The Man, The Music” debuted at the Palazzo on January 26th, to generally favorable reviews. However, in just two months of five-night-a-week shows since, attendance already appears to be tapering off. The Wednesday night show I attended was only at about 60 percent capacity, not quite the stellar numbers one would expect with a sparkling new show just out of the gate playing at one of the city’s premier casino resorts. Las Vegas locals are now even receiving discount coupons in the mail, a sure sign things might be getting desperate. Worse for Sinatra aficionados, the average age of mostly grey-haired attendees looked to about the same as a typical retirement community in West Palm Beach, calling the show’s sustainability into question. It’s already the Las Vegas Strip’s equivalent of horse racing, and frankly speaking — a losing ticket.
I’m intimately familiar with the larger-than-life Sinatra story and his expansive songbook. So, my expectations for this performance were admittedly high. Unfortunately, the show failed to deliver on most counts, not so much for lack of effort and even execution as much as a pervasive boorishness from start to finish, followed up by a frightening revelation that old-style entertainment extravaganzas like this have passed their expiration date thus degenerating into vaudevillian dinosaurs.
I give this show a mixed grade leaning towards “not recommended,” for several reasons which I’ll explain.
First, let’s discuss what’s good. Bob Anderson delivers a convincing impression of the man and his music. He hits most of the notes with just the right balance, the most difficult to capture being the strains of the troubadour’s scratchy-vocals, particularly during his later years. Sinatra’s organic voice was always full of raw power, instantly stamping any verse he sang with authenticity. Indeed, his singing voice and talking voice were always one and the same. But it’s the much softer whiskey-breathed reflective solitude and that genuine self-reflective pain of love and loss several times over that always moved us somehow, and what we remember most about the persona. Sinatra always described himself, and even took great pride in being what he called “a saloon singer.”
Aside from satisfactory vocals, Anderson excels best at recreating Sinatra’s unique mannerisms, as often ridiculous and amusing as they were at times. Flailing hands, waving arms, the grimaced face, the slow stage movements, the downward gaze at the floor, the way we rips the ancient mike chord over the stage so as not to trip, and that pervasive arrogance — Anderson is Sinatra on ticker tape parade. He isn’t even particularly likable much of the time while performing, cutting down some of those in his band with canned one-liners that seem more suited for Don Rickles’ comedy act out of the 1960s. From the moment Anderson walks onstage, he is Sinatra, always in character. Aided by creative makeup and a comb over, the show does have its moments.
The event bills itself as a replication of “Sinatra at the Sands,” circa 1966 (there’s an album of the same name). This is way off base. We’re watching a much older Sinatra here, long past his renaissance as a musical figure and sparked more recently by iconic cross-generational mega-hits including My Way and New York-New York which became popular mainstays during the mid-1970s. This stage performance is much closer to that era, captured in the spectacular 1982 performance in the Dominican Republic known as “Concert for the Americas,” when Sinatra was very comfortably in the September of his years, at age 66. Sinatra’s old Las Vegas shows were markedly different from his later touring act, and to suggest this Palazzo act is anything like those Rat Pack shows with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. would be a huge mistake.
Song selection is marginally creative, without varying off course too far out of everyone’s collective comfort zone of familiarity. After all, this is a crowd that came to hear the classics — including I’ve Got You Under My Skin, The Lady is Tramp, Come Fly with Me, Fly Me to the Moon, The Way You Look Tonight, Luck Be a Lady, Summer Wind, Strangers in the Night, and of course — a certain tune written by Paul Anka and the other by John Kander and Fred Ebb which are intended as show stoppers. But the real two standout moments of the show include a couple of lesser-known introspective songs from one of Sinatra’s least appreciated albums, 1984’s “She Shot Me Down” — namely Angel Eyes (reprised later by Sting on the soundtrack of “Leaving Las Vegas“) and the extraordinary reworked medley combo of The Girl that Got Away and It Never Entered My Mind that became a staple of Sinatra’s final decade of shows, up through 1994. For me, these were to two high points.
As to the show’s disappointments, there were unfortunately several. Odd as this criticism will sound, the frequent non-musical interludes between songs — much like Sinatra’s actual performances during the later half of his career — become expectant pregnant pauses. We’re anticipating delivery sometime within the next nine seconds. Typically, Anderson finishes up a song, followed by applause, then there’s an awkward silence while the faux Sinatra dodders around the stage seemingly lost at times and wondering what next to say. Several times, Anderson seemed to stumble over his words, reciting the standard Sinatra schtick of immediately acknowledging the composer and lyricist once the song is over — ala, “what a beautiful tune by Rogers and Hart, isn’t that marvelous?” — then trying to find the non-existent teleprompter. Those who have watched Sinatra’s shows post the famed “Ol Blue Eyes is Back” period will instantly recognize Anderson’s attempt to reincarnate Sinatra’s often inarticulate, blue-collar narrative, which is genuine. Trouble is, it makes for a certain clumsiness when it’s not delivered by the man himself. We’re perfectly willing to be enthralled by real Sinatra sketches while he sipped bourbon and bitched about “broads,” but the act now seems forced, and again frankly speaking, terribly dated.
The performance also often seems more like a stew of leftovers rather than a well-planned five-course meal. Those of us who are familiar with Sinatra’s movie career, his clashes at Capital Records, his political activism (first with Kennedy and later on behalf of Reagan), his undeniable underworld connections, his many extramarital affairs, and his broken marriages will get much of the insider stuff that’s a significant part of the act in-between songs. But if you’re under age 50, something significantly more is needed. A suggestion would be to utilize the two giant screen on each side of the stage and provide a broader understanding of Sinatra’s assorted career in entertainment, which spanned 50 years. Seriously, how many people know what Anderson is talking about when he makes a reference to “Pal Joey?”
Sadly, where the show really misses the mark is in failing to deliver that quintessential ‘wow” moment that every top attraction on The Strip has at least once during the performance. Not once did the audience explode into spontaneous applause or demonstrate any emotion other than polite golf-like applause and going through the motions. Sure, many in the audience stood up at the conclusion of the show (there was no encore), but perhaps they were just eager to head for the exits. Despite all the brass and strings, and a valiant effort by Anderson in the most challenging role as Sinatra, we’re never blown away as we should be.
Perhaps the era of Sinatra-esque shows is over. Coolness is defined entirely differently now. That’s sad.
Then again….That’s Life. Come Rain or Come Shine, Sinatra fans always long for The Day of Wine and Roses. They cherish The Good Life. For some, The Best is Yet to Come. Memories can indeed be relived and impressionists can be enjoyed The Second Time Around, if even they’re no match for the original.