By Quinn Rigg The world is in a rampant state of flux and unrest as this country struggles to reopen in a safe and equitable manner. The globe warms by degrees; leaders bicker over maintaining a broken status quo; and a pandemic still looms large over promises of stability and normalcy. With decades worth of information flooding us every week, we look at a pleasant summer night and turn to what is familiar to provide comfort in interesting times. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre follows a larger trend of the entertainment industry by producing work that evokes the nostalgia, safety, and complacency of bygone days. My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra is a comfortable retreading of familiar ground, poised to welcome patrons back after a very long hiatus. Stylishly designed and skillfully performed, this production succeeds in evoking a jovial affinity that engages with fans of Sinatra’s lengthy recording career. However, there is an uncanny insincerity within the material itself. Tonal inconsistency and awkward segues throughout the book place a spotlight on overwhelming hoke and disquietingly unmotivated circumstances.
Created by David Grapes and Todd Olson, My Way follows five fanatics of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” performing medleys of Sinatra’s greatest hits in the confines of “Jilly’s -- the best cocktail bar north of Joliet.” Less jukebox musical, more revue, there is no plot, merely transitions between songs. The men and women on stage are both intimately familiar with one another while simultaneously completely removed from the others performing. The audience exists both within and outside of the performances in the bar as well, as crowd work and audience participation are utilized; yet the audience is also an unacknowledged bystander to the five performers “honoring the legend” of Frank Sinatra. Favorite quotes are shared along with anecdotes tangentially related to the next batch of songs. With a clear “premise” but no narrative throughline and no consistent relationships onstage or with the audience, one wonders whether this show would be better off as a concert.
Regardless of the book’s shortcomings, the music is still sure to keep toes tapping, stewarded skillfully by music director Kenneth McMullen. Bringing live music back into living color, McMullen leads on keys with an extraordinary jazz quartet that is sure to please. Each of the five performers locks in beautifully with McMullen’s direction: Isabella Andrews performs with masterful vocal facility and electrifying presence; Jasmine Lacy Young is a delightful vocal powerhouse; Austin Nelson, Jr. is magnetic with his charm and effortless in his effortless vocal agility; Michael Metcalf evokes the spirit and style of Sinatra with power and poise; Heidi Kurzejka dances with grace and engages the crowd without reservation. Direction by Joe Keefe and choreography by Jessica Miret Garcia set the party in motion with quaint tableaux, pretty stage pictures, and yes, a fair level of yucking it up with plenty of schmaltz.
Creating the magic in an outdoor tent on Evergreen and Eastman are the My Way’s design team. Scenic designer Sam Gribben faithfully creates an intimately detailed bar lounge, in flair befitting The Chairman of the Board. Lighting designer Trey Brazeal artfully captures the luxurious showmanship and pensive musings of these jazz classics, playing well off of the tasteful pizazz of Rachel S. Parent’s costume design. Metropolis’ My Way may not be a pulse-pounding event of thrills, chills and spills; it is not particularly innovative, nor is it overtly exciting… but it doesn’t have to be. Gripes with hoke aside, this production is a well-tailored experience to those who grew up associating Frank Sinatra’s voice with memories of gathering to dance, to comfort, and to let loose. The world changes at a breakneck pace, and a slow night of well-performed classics is a welcome change from the uncertain tides lingering around every corner of American life. To those who were fans of Frank Sinatra’s work, this production is sure to be a diverting summer night in remembrance of eras long-since past. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre presents “My Way” through August 28th. More information and tickets may be found here. Photos by Ellen Prather.