My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra

Phoenix Theatre Company, Phoenix, AZ, April 16,2021

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

Frank Sinatra was born in 1915 and is considered by many to be the finest singer of the 20th century. To a young generation of musical theater singers, he is a historic figure—possibly someone that their grandparents listened to on vinyl recordings. But thanks to the Great American Songbook gods and the Phoenix Theatre Company that young performers are keeping these songs alive. 

Two real-life couples, Trisha Ditsworth and Matravius Avent, alongside James Gish and Jesse Jo Pauley, delighted the audience with 10 medleys loosely strung together with fun facts about Sinatra’s life. The setting was, of course, a bar, reminiscent of Sinatra’s era, and each of the performers were dressed in cocktail attire under the backdrop of PTC’s giant projection screen.

Ditsworth is an Equity veteran of many PTC shows, having starred as Maria in The Sound of Music not long before the pandemic struck. She is an experienced singer and a lovely dancer and is completely comfortable playing to her husband Avent. Because so many songs were woven into medleys, it is hard to pick out her most featured moments. She handled “My Funny Valentine” (Rodgers & Hart), “I Get a Kick Out of You” (Cole Porter), “South of the Border” (Michael Carr/James Kennedy) and “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” (Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn) with a beautiful mellow tone befitting the songs.

The younger Pauley is cute and has spunk and energy on stage. Her vocal style however is always a contemporary belt which is not as comfortable on the ear for mature fans of Sinatra’s music.

Gish is a work in progress. He is a gifted and sought-after tenor who has excelled in roles such as Tony in West Side Story. He is developing a cabaret style and it was obvious that he had been coached to shorten his phrasing and relax into the songs, which improved over the course of the night. An exception was “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” (Mann Curtis, Walter Kent, Al Hoffman) which was over the top. In “Drinking Again” (Johnny Mercer/Doris Tauber) Gish showed introspection, and he was strong in the clever “Cities Medley” defending the City of Chicago with “My Kind of Town” (Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen) and coming back with “Chicago” (Fred Fisher).

To my surprise, Avent was the star, channeling the spirit of Sinatra with his smooth moves and his gift for phrasing. He “aced I’ve Got the World on a String” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler) from the opening and never looked back. His “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Cole Porter) was a highlight as was the lesser known “Lean Baby” (Roy Alford/William May), and he was always riveting in the ensemble numbers. My favorite of the quartets, of which there were many, was “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Al Dubin/Harry Warren) which was a visual and harmonic delight. “Moonlight Serenade” (Glenn Miller/Mitchell Parish) brought back the big band era and gave us first the women and then the men in harmony. Avent and Ditsworth also shined in “The Lady Is a Tramp” (Rodgers & Hart)—he on song and her as his dance partner. Predictably, the show wrapped with quartets of “My Way” (Paul Anka/Gilles Thibault/Claude Francois/Jacques Revaux) and a fun-filled “Theme from New York, New York” (Kander & Ebb) complete with top hats and kick lines.

Director D. Scott Withers created one perfect picture after another, and Kristen Peterson, lighting designer, and Dallas Nichols, video designer, enhanced Sinatra’s songbook with projections that added color and set the mood. Alan J. Plado on piano, Mark Stolper on drums, and Dan Stolz on bass provided excellent accompaniment throughout the evening. I would be remiss not to also mention the choreographic contributions of Robert Kolby Harper, PTC’s Associate Artistic Director which the cast made look natural and easy.

What is the secret to success? “Sinatra said “Sing good songs!” My Way is an evening under the stars in a city that still has the best weather in the country with one good song after another. PTC mounts polished, professional entertainment and you can count on its safety protocols and its effort to treat its patrons well. My Way continues through May 23.

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.