BWW Review: AN EVENING WITH... FRANK SINATRA Satisfies Supremely at The Green Room 42
Fresh off a win declaring AN EVENING WITH... the Broadway World Best Series of the 2019 cabaret season, Blake Allen and company kicked off their third season at The Green Room 42 last night with their tribute to the one and only Frank Sinatra. This year they will have a lot of one and only's in their line up, including Julie Andrews and Judy Garland, and if last night's show is a representation of the quality of entertainment to be had, An Evening With earned their Broadway World Award and their packed-to-the-rafters full house last night. Indeed, the show was so sold out that the management had to delay the start time of the concert nearly half an hour in order to accommodate the incredibly long line of guests striving to get in. Starting your show late to get in the throngs of patrons is definitely a champagne problem, one for which any nightclub entertainer hopes and prays, and Mr. Allen's pockets are surely filled with the coins of self-satisfaction, especially when the show went so well, with his glorious band of 13 bang-up musicians miraculously managing to get onto the cabaret stage at TGR42, and 20 astonishingly talented singers prepared to, each, bring their musical majesty to the music of Mr. Sinatra. It was a glamorous night of theater, the kind audiences have come to expect from The Green Room 42.
Blake Allen hand-picks the artists who will appear in his show, carefully curating the evening so that there is a variety of styles and artistic voices, and he could not have indicated this proposed variety better than by having the super sexy Benny Benack III start the show with "You Make Me Feel So Young" because what's sexier than a handsome dude singing Sinatra AND playing a horn? It was a perfect start to the evening, even though a temperamental music stand positioned front and center fell on top of a man in the front row, who graciously caught and restored it to the stage, something he would do another few times during the 100-minute long show. With Mr. Allen sharing informative and interesting factoids from his place at the piano, one by one, singers took to the microphone to perform these songs by Sinatra, some of them iconic tunes made famous by the legend, others a little less known to the population at large, and for audience members lucky enough to be in a seat that provided the right view, getting to watch Allen conduct was a significant part of the entertainment value of the show.
An Evening With... features a core group of company members who appear in every show, and for every edition of the series, Mr. Allen invites guest stars to join in the fun. None of the singers speak, they leave all the rhetoric to Allen, their focus being on the story to be told inside of the song with which they have been tasked, which made Marcus Goldhaber's personalized comments about Sinatra's toilet before "No One Ever Tells You" a little out of place, bringing an unwelcome element to the evening. It would have been much more effective for Mr. Goldhaber to stick to the program format, the way Haley Swindal did when she stunned the room with her powerful rendition of "My Way," making one wish that Swindal had more than one number, a wish granted when she returned to the show alongside unannounced guest artist Jana Robbins, with an appropriately rousing "New York New York." Also appropriate was the choice to make crooner Mark William the man to sing a medley of some of Sinatra's biggest hits, William being the performer whose style comes closest to emulating that of Old Blue Eyes. It was especially refreshing to hear the Broadway World Award winner for Best Debut and Best Independent Recording sing the pronouns authentic to his own love life during the song "All The Way." Mr. William has a voice that will surprise audiences, though at times he can appear slightly aloof, an issue the Dorian Gray-faced James T. Kelly did not have during "Come Fly With Me" - a number Mr. Kelly sang splendidly, but with a frustrating tendency toward miming the actions being discussed in the lyrics of the song. That voice and face will do the job, quite nicely, no need for extraneous telegraphing of the song are warranted.
In her first appearance since being named Best Vocalist in the Broadway World Awards, Christine de Frece acquitted herself with grace and glamor, a beatific and beautiful expression on her face during her "City Medley." When last this writer attended one of the An Evening With... shows, Ms. de Frece was one of the singers who got dinged for reading their lyrics off of the music stand but this time around, the effervescent redhead was one of the shows' company members who arrived prepared, ready to work, and down to entertain, which is exactly what she did, and the difference in her performance was plainly visible. Ms. de Frece was joined in her quest to shake off the sheet music by fellow company members, the winsome Kerry Conte, delivering "Here's to the Losers" in her best Liza Minnelli musical monologue manner, and the dreamy Jack Scott, presenting "Ain't That A Kick in the Head" as though an announcement to the world that he is ready to claim his Leading Man status in the business. Scoring points for spending less time looking at their lyric sheet are company members Spencer Glass and Josh Daniel, who had the music stand at their sides but who only glanced down once or twice during their respective (and stunningly sung) "I Get A Kick Out of You" and "The Lamp Is Low." They have proven they can get through the song without the music stand, as they did recently during their appearances at Susie Mosher's The Lineup, so one hopes that when An Evening With... Dolly Parton plays they will have no need to look down even once unless it is a part of the story they are telling. Less successful at abandoning their lyric sheet were company members Emily Croft, Emily Trumble, Christine DiGiallonardo, and Jordan Tyson, whose lives must be too busy for them to learn their songs, because when they performed, it was all they could do to get their eyes off of the music stand holding their pages, pages that sometimes fell on the floor, got out of order, or accompanied the pesky music stand as it toppled over. These shufflings of pages and repositionings of the metal stand do nothing but stop the storytelling and cast a light of unprofessionalism onto the otherwise slick proceedings, a shame because vocally these singing actresses are not to be dismissed.
Particular delights of the evening were Caitlyn Fahey's in the pocket performance of "Why Try To Change Me Now" and Phoebe Strole's haunting "I Get Along Without You Very Well" both of which left the audience in a state of stunned silence until the final notes of the orchestra, at which time the ovations were raucous. The emerging superstars of the evening were Michael Wordly, whose otherworldly "My Funny Valentine" was the stuff that dreams are made of, Ray DeForest, whose fashion sense, overall style and spot-on performance of "Mack The Knife" laid them in the aisles, Joseph C. Townsend, the chic power balladeer who proved his gargantuan voice swings, too, with "That's Life" and The Actress of the evening, Dani Apple, who stepped up on the stage with the story of "From Here To Eternity" on her face, where it stayed for her entire blissfully perfect performance.
An Evening With... won that Broadway World Award for a reason. Mr. Allen has created something special and The Green Room 42 spotted that and gave them a home. Outside of a concert hall (and concert hall prices) finding a ninety-minute evening of live music, featuring 20 Broadway-caliber performers singing with TV talent show voices, showcasing the catalogs of the most beloved singing artists in history is a task easily labeled Impossible.
But it isn't impossible. All it takes a subway ride to 42nd Street and a stroll to 10th Avenue. The miracle isn't on 34th Street this time - it's on 42nd.
An Evening With... Dolly Parton plays March 13
An Evening With... Rosemary Clooney plays May 15
An Evening With... Nina Simone plays July 31
An Evening With... Julie Andrews plays October 1
An Evening With... Judy Garland plays December 4
For information and tickets please visit The Green Room 42 Website
An Evening With... Series has a Facebook page @aneveningwithseries
Benny Benack III
Joseph C. Townsend
James T. Kelly
Photos by Stephen Mosher