Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Frank is in hospital on his death bed. We are to be witness to his final day along with his wife a friend and a nurse. It is his discussions with the nurse that take us on a journey through his life with the classics and some less well known – to non fans – tunes that simply cannot fail to deliver.
Ol Blue Eyes may not be back but he is singing a healthy tune. Frank sits and talks of his beginnings, his maturing and his endings in a conversation with a nurse who says she doesn’t know who he is to begin with before admitting she knew fine well who he was. By the time Frank takes his final curtain we have heard almost all of his finest tunes from two singers who have the phrasing and the voice down to a tee.
Now here’s the thing. Musically this is triumphant. There is hardly a bum note or a dry eye in the house. Moray Innes and Alan Murrie capture Sinatra at his peak. What is not at its peak is the narrative. Sinatra on a deathbed suggests investigative journalism and deep meaningful confessions. But they never promised us that rose garden so we are left with a clunky piece of writing that serves to introduce the songs. I think John Murray should go and think about this. Incidental characters have little to do apart from the nurse. It leaves us with a less than full understanding of the man and two actors who are underused. Perhaps their relationship outside of the hospital room would also serve to introduce a few of these classic tunes.
The performers fall into two categories – the singers and the actors. The nurse manages fine as both and her voice is a near match to the older Sinatra with whom she shares a duet. That having been said the performances of both wife and friend Tony are stilted, not helped by the dialogue and have that unfortunate New York style of delivering dialogue – shoulders hunched, mouth to the side as if there is something on one side leaving the other side to emit sound. It makes acting more difficult and less believable.
The staging was good with clear delineation between the stage with his bed and with his younger self. There were no unnecessary props or furniture though bringing the partition round for a reveal we knew was coming was a little unnecessary.
This is hardly Mamma Mia but as a run through Sinatra’s back catalogue with a friendly ear and sympathetic narrative it works. If it is to have legs beyond the saloon bar circuit it needs to sort the writing out and give it a stronger structure.
I am no Sinatra fan but you cannot argue with the quality of the sound the man produced, the fan base that nodded along and smiled with each classic nor the ability that sang from the stage. It just needs a few wee tweaks and I am sure the actors will have more to contribute and the stage on which it will be sung with gusto