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BWW Reviews: With His Intimate Frank Sinatra Tribute Show at the Metropolitan Room, RICHARD MALAVET Raises His Vocal Game

Near the end of his exceptional new show, Very Good Years: The Intimate Sinatra at the Metropolitan Room, Richard Malavet recalls famed radio personality William B. Williams who once said: "Frank Sinatra is the most imitated, most listened to, most recognized voice of the 20th century." Williams did not exaggerate. Consequently, in this centennial year of Sinatra's birth, there will be many observations of the man known as "The Voice." For his tribute to Sinatra, Malavet did his homework. In this meticulously researched, respectful homage, he turns his talents to the more personalized aspects of the pop star's recording years, from 1939-1968, when musically, Sinatra became synonymous with songs of heartache and loneliness.

Malavet notes minimal similarities between himself and "Ol' Blue Eyes" during the carefully chosen set that has them both dwelling in parallel musical universes that overlap tangentially. It works and makes for a top-notch show with the brilliant Grammy-winning pianist John Di Martino at the helm as arranger and conductor of a swinging quartet that included James Chirillo on guitar, Boris Kozlov on bass, and Shinnosuke Takahashi on drums.

Sinatra was always a spellbinding singer; a weaver of moods. In spite of a colorful private life that often grabbed headlines, the man was a consummate professional in concert and especially in the recording studio. He played a proactive role in all arrangements and orchestrations as he worked with the best in the business (with a particular fondness for Nelson Riddle). Opening with a buoyant "You Make Me Feel So Young" (Myrow-Gordon)--with guitarist Chirillo riffing before the band jumps in--was the perfect start to this journey that as it unfolded would stitch together musical pieces of time. Malavet, known for his deep, rich baritone, doesn't attempt to imitate Sinatra. Instead, he conveys a darker and, at times, smoother, introspective interpretation of classic tunes that were the foundation of a legendary pop icon's career. Malavet caressed "Say It Over and Over Again," a long forgotten rarity by Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser from Sinatra's years with the Tommy Dorsey Band in the early 1940s, and followed with smooth, smoky vocals on "This Love Of Mine" (Parker-Sanicola-Sinatra).

After some low-key banter (and checking his "cheat sheet"), Cole Porter's "Night And Day"--a Sinatra favorite throughout his career--was given a driving, infectious bossa beat. Tucked in the crook of the piano, Malavet touched on Sinatra's life-changing apocalypse when he met fiery screen goddess Ava Gardner. This incendiary relationship changed the man's career and his life. Crooning a yearning "I'm A Fool To Want You" (penned by Sinatra along with the team of Wolf and Herron,) gave Malavet his most effective moment as he sang emotionally of despair and loss. "Don't Worry Bout Me" (Bloom-Koehler) and a swinging delivery on "I've Got You Under My Skin," with more strong Latin infusions, wrapped this trilogy into a torchy meditation on human frailty that was riveting.

Reminding us of another moniker, Malavet noted that Sinatra was also known as "The poet laureate of loneliness." Yet, he hated being alone. It added to the complexities that sculpted the singing artist of heartbreak that he grew into. Later, nestled back in the crook of the piano, Malavet set up Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's ultimate saloon classic, "One For My Baby" with a quip about Sinatra's waning career in the early 1950s when he went through a bleak period of heavy drinking--and fewer gigs. Malavet pulled this off with a poignant delivery on the self-pitying lyric that laments: " . . . One for my baby and one more for the road." In doing so, the singer took this definitive song of loss and turned it into an intimate anthem of shattering misery.

Other high spots included the 1957 Oscar winning song "All The Way" (from The Joker Is Wild), which also became a Sinatra mainstay for the rest of his professional life. [See Malavet's rendition from the show in video above.] There were great swing readings (most with a Latin twist) on "Let's Fall In Love" (Koehler-Arlen), "Once I Loved" (a 1967 collaboration with Antonio Carlos Jobim--music and Ray Gilbert--lyrics.), and a spitfire delivery on 1968's "Yellow Days" sung in Spanish ("Se Te Ol Vida"), with another driving bossa arrangement that proved to be a serious crowd pleaser. Returning to 1939, where it all started, Malavet closed with Sinatra's first No. 1 hit with the Dorsey Band, a bouncy "All Or Nothing At All" (Lawrence-Altman.) This wrapped the finely tuned set of classic gems from the Great American Songbook with Malavet's personal stamp. The show is fastidious in its structure, detail, and delivery, and could play any major room with ease.

Malavet, who had taken a short break from cabaret, has dropped the cautious, eager-to-please mannerisms of old. Now, he sings from a calm center sparked by a current of confident, mischievous sexiness that playfully comes to the fore in his lithe, jazzy style and he reveals an even stronger baritone worthy of the finest male singers. As his self-confidence has grown, Malavet's inflections and jazz baritone have thickened and intensified, culminating in a classy artist worthy of more attention. In short, he's doing it his way. Very Good Years takes the singer to another level and it could be a candidate for one of the best cabaret shows this year.

Richard Malavet returns to the Metropolitan Room 34 West 22nd St., New York, NY. Very Good Years: The Intimate Sinatra on July 24 and August 27 and 28, all at 7 pm. For reservations, call: 212.206.0440.

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From This Author John Hoglund

John Hoglund is very proud of his lifelong passion for the performing arts which include the worlds of classical music, opera and jazz. It began (read more...)