BWW Review: SINATRA: RAW, The Crazy Coqs
The Purple Room, Palm Springs, 1971. The Crazy Coqs is transformed as Sinatra: Raw takes up residency, following its success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
It is bittersweet, as the disillusioned Frank relives the low points of his life, still seething from rejections nearly 30 years old, but his tales of woe are punctuated with the songs we know and love, and we see the character take refuge in the music and come alive.
Shelton is remarkable as Frank Sinatra, completely transforming into the great man so you would believe he was back in the room with you - from the opening notes of "A Very Good Year" onwards.
Other highlights include "My Foolish Heart", when Shelton steps away from the microphone to sing for Ava Gardner - whose presence is felt in the rawness of the piece - and "That's Life", as Sinatra sings away his problems. It goes without saying that "My Way" brings on goosebumps.
Shelton's characterisation is so complete, he takes requests from the audience, and performs them perfectly, off the cuff. Make sure you go prepared to ask for your favourites. A mention here must go to pianist Michael Roulston, who's also ready to play anything. He's a brilliant anchor for a night of drinking and singing around the piano, as the show is designed to be.
The intimacy of The Crazy Coqs allows the audience to be drawn in by the Ol' Blue Eyes, and this connection adds to the poignancy of the anecdotes and the magic of the twinkle in Shelton's eye when he sings. The flickering of the orange lamps on the cabaret-style tables adds to a palpable energy created by an audience who have come to meet friends, have a few drinks, and enjoy the classy entertainment.
The lighting on stage is simple, giving the room a purple glow to reflect The Purple Room. Use of a spotlight is sparing and, when it is used, it is the darkness which is striking, having great impact as Sinatra becomes lost in his past.
The story does not shy away from darkness, tackling Sinatra's demons - including abortion, suicide and civil rights. Even the success of his record label is portrayed as revenge rather than achievement.
Furthermore, despite being set almost 50 years ago, the cultural moments discussed remain pertinent: Sinatra describes America as a "great country" which is being ruined by bigotry and ignorance. It's not all doom and gloom though; Shelton cracks the jokes effortlessly. There is a particularly good one about swinging and taking shots on a golf course.
Sinatra: Raw is an outstanding production. It is simple but so effective as Shelton's talent shines through as both an actor and a singer. He is not a mere tribute act: he becomes Frank Sinatra for the hour of so that the audience are completely transported back to the Seventies to meet with the man behind the music.
Photo credit: Betty Zapata