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BWW Review: SINATRA: RAW, Wilton's Music Hall


BWW Review: SINATRA: RAW, Wilton's Music Hall BWW Review: LITTLE BABY JESUS, Orange Tree TheatreStart spreading the news: Richard Shelton's renowned cabaret Sinatra: Raw is now at Wilton's Music Hall as the culmination of a national tour. Having received an Offie nomination for Best Male Performance, Shelton brings his depiction of one of history's finest singers for a two-week engagement.

Following previous runs at the Crazy Coqs and the Edinburgh Fringe, Shelton has extended the show to almost two hours - and boy does it go quicker than the bottle of Jack Daniels on stage. The setting is Palm Springs, California, in 1971, where a select group of Hollywood stars and music moguls have gathered for an intimate evening of songs and stories.

This is a Sinatra at the end of his career. Rock 'n' roll is increasing in popularity, and he sings "I've Got You Under My Skin" into the bottom of his whiskey glass. Yet this is also a man who has battled the press and lived through meteoric rises and colossal falls. Written by Shelton, this is a meticulously researched piece with information presented in a conversational and subtle way.

Shelton's familiarity with Sinatra - he played the man in The Rat Pack in the West End - is evident from his first note to his last. The mannerisms, the modulations, the pronunciations, it's all there. By turns cheeky and faux-serious with the audience (he takes requests in the second half), this is a masterclass in inhabiting not just a character but a spirit.

But in spite of the vitality of Shelton's Sinatra, it's impossible not to feel an encroaching sense of tiredness emanating from the character. This is helped by the show's backdrop, the ersatz Wilton's Music Hall. One gets the distinct feeling of the end of a career, continuing with glamour and ceremony, but something inside is hollow.

The show is also beautifully lit, and in general it is at its best when audiences are taken directly into Sinatra's mind. The promotional materials brand this as "the 2am Sinatra you dream of meeting. Dangerous. Unpredictable. Brilliant." Through Shelton's performance, there's no doubting the final of this triplet, but the other two? Less so.

That's not to say the show isn't potent. "It was a very good year" is completely captivating, with Sinatra's façade stripped away and audiences left with a man going through his life. Perhaps the result of its extensive touring, the main issue with Sinatra: Raw then is that it no longer feels spontaneous enough. Every movement by Shelton fits into place and every emotion is rendered with an exactness that seems to move against the excessive alcohol consumed and the darkness of the memories relived.

It's also a shame that there's an interval; it would be better to keep audiences hooked on every song, every drink, every memory. Adding the break takes you out of 1970s California and puts you firmly in 2019 Whitechapel.

With Shelton accompanied by Michael Roulston, there's no denying the suave confidence that exudes from this show. Someday soon, when I'm awfully cold because of the winter weather, I'll feel a glow just thinking of this show. The next one's on me, Ol' Blue Eyes.

Sinatra: Raw is at Wilton's Music Hall until 2 November.

Photograph credit: Betty Laura Zapata.

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