54 Salutes Frank Sinatra: Celebrating His Second Century

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54 Salutes Frank Sinatra:
Celebrating His Second Century

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, March 26, 2022

Reviewed by Ron Forman

Frank Sinatra recorded close to 1,400 songs. In addition to those, there were many songs that he sang on the radio and television but never recorded. That leaves Scott Siegel an almost endless supply of material to pick from for his twice-monthly series 54 Salutes Sinatra: Celebrating His Second Century. What makes each of these shows special is Siegel’s careful selection of songs to match the sound and style of his cast of very talented singers selected from the cabaret, Broadway, and opera stages.

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This edition had an exceptionally stellar cast of vocalists, who do not try to mirror Sinatra’s version of a particular song but perform it their way. As is the format in all of Siegel’s varied productions, he introduces each song with an interesting and often amusing bit of information or an anecdote.
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Music director Ron Abel added much to the show by providing a perfect accompaniment to the vocalists, who ranged from a precocious 18-year-old to a four-time Grammy-winning opera star.

Willie Demyan opened the show with a very dramatic “All the Way.” He returned later with his take on “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” with Abel providing accompaniment on piano in the manner Bill Miller provided for Sinatra on his iconic recording. Josephine Sanges did two swinging numbers on which she included the verses—“Fly Me to the Moon” and “Let’s Fall in Love”—accompanied nicely on piano by John Cook. Cabaret star Elena Bennett’s first number was “Oh, You Crazy Moon,” and she displayed her great sound and exquisite phrasing by starting “Fools Rush In” slowly and then building it to a big finish. Ben Jones offered a very dramatic, very different but very effective “Come Back to Me.” He had me convinced that he was really very angry, with as good a performance of “I Wanna Be Around” as I have witnessed.

Anaïs Reno is an amazing 18-year-old whom I have watched develop as a performer for almost four years. She has incredible maturity for her age, but more importantly, she is a marvelous singer. She began “Autumn Leaves” slowly in French, then changed tempos and swung the balance of the song in English. Abel’s soft piano combined beautifully with Reno’s slow, beautiful performance of “Stardust.” The tenor voice of Metropolitan Opera star John Easterlin thrilled us with “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.” Jones provided the show’s next-to-closing number, a very dramatic “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which ended with him breathlessly holding the final note on the word “alone”; it was almost like watching a one-act play. Easterlin closed the show with a very personal “My Way.” I believed he was telling us his life story in this ultra-dramatic performance, unlike any other I have heard of this song. He began by speaking the first few lines, and then his amazing operatic voice took over and built to a spectacular conclusion to end this fast-moving and very entertaining show.

Ron Forman

Ron Forman has been a Mathematics Professor at Kingsborough Community College for 45 years. In that time, he has managed to branch out in many different areas. From 1977 to 1994 he was co-owner of Comics Unlimited, the third largest comic book distribution company in the USA. In 1999,after a lifetime of secretly wanting to do a radio program, he began his weekly Sweet Sounds program on WKRB 90.3 FM, dedicated to keeping the music of the Great American Songbook alive and accessible. This introduced him to the world of cabaret, which led to his position as a reviewer for Cabaret Scenes.