Nothin’ Stupid: Get a kick out of this Frank Sinatra tribute

BY Laura Latzko

Frank Sinatra had a special way of captivating audiences with songs like “Fly Me to the Moon,” “New York, New York,” “I Get A Kick Out of You” and “My Way.”

David Grapes’ and Todd Olson’s show, “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra” hits the Phoenix Theatre Company’s outdoor stage at Central United Methodist Church from April 14 to May 23.

This will be the final show in the theater company’s 2020-21 outdoor season.

Similar to other shows, seating will be socially distanced, and masks and temperature checks are required for staff and audience members.

Directed by D. Scott Withers, the production will be set in an intimate, midcentury cabaret bar, in which the four performers — Jessie Jo Pauley, James D. Gish, Trisha Ditsworth and Matravius Avent — will sing musical vignettes about Sinatra’s life. The two couples recently performed together in February for a Valentine’s Day-themed show at Wrigley Mansion.

In July, Ditsworth and Avent did a livestream featuring standards from the Great American Songbook. The two were also supposed to be in Phoenix Theatre Company’s production of “Something Rotten!” but it was postponed due to COVID-19.

The couple met while performing in Phoenix Theatre Company’s “Memphis.” They rarely shared the stage until they appeared in Arizona Broadway Theatre’s “Sister Act.”

Ditsworth says during the COVID-19 pandemic, producers have been wanting to work more with couples.

“We can dance together,” Ditsworth says. “We can kiss. We can sing at each other. Even though work has been few and far between, we have actually only worked together this last year.”

With the Frank Sinatra show, the couple will perform well-known and more obscure Frank Sinatra music, including “That Old Black Magic,” “My Funny Valentine” and “I’ve Got the World on a String.”

Ditsworth says Sinatra’s special vocal quality made him stand out.

“I do love that classic style, that throwback style of singing where everything is so full and lovely,” Ditsworth says. “There’s just something about Frank’s voice that gives you that tingly feeling, that makes the hair on your arms stand up.”

The songs’ arrangements and the performance style will bring a new take to music that some audiences may know by heart.

“With this show, you are going to get singing and dancing and laughs — hopefully,” Avent says. “You’re going to get the Phoenix Theatre Company experience that people have come to expect when they come to a show.”

The couples will perform solos and duets, as well as a few group numbers. The production is broken down into different themes, such as songs about cities or about love.

Ditsworth and Avent are familiar with Sinatra’s music, although a few songs are new to them. Avent has done Rat Pack tributes in the past, and Ditsworth has performed in jazz shows.

“Certain songs are going to be so fresh in my mind, but then I’m going to have to recreate them in the style of this show,” Ditsworth says.

Although she is familiar with Sinatra’s work, there were a few surprises for her, like Sinatra’s disco songs.

Avent says he has enjoyed delving into Sinatra’s deeper tracks. In the show, none of the performers will portray Sinatra as they perform his music. They will sing his songs and share tidbits about the singer’s life as themselves.

“There isn’t that pressure to sing it just like him, but we are going to honor him and his career,” Ditsworth says.

“The writers were smart in that. They were clear about not impersonating Frank Sinatra. That gives us the liberty to be ourselves and make great music. Frank Sinatra’s voice is one of a kind. There’s no replicating that, even if we tried,” Avent adds.

Sinatra had certain movements that the performers will recreate in their own ways.

“Frank Sinatra just had an ease about him when he performed. That’s what you think about when you think Frank — class. That is something that we all as performers can bring to the show,” Avent says.

The show does stay true to Sinatra’s style of performing.

“The writers were very specific about how these songs should be portrayed,” Avent says.

“They allow for a little bit of liberties, but everything will definitely have the Frank Sinatra feel. Even our director was talking about that. There are certain things that Frank did, like rhythmic things or phrasing type things that specific to that era and Frank.”

“These songs bring back so many great memories for lots of people,” Ditsworth adds.