Stage: Sinatra and Me: Richard Shelton and Band – Rockwood Theatre, Sibaya Casino, near Umhlanga (until Sunday, March 17)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
ANY fan of the late, great Frank Sinatra would be crazy to not book immediately for Sinatra and Me, an elegant and quite excellent touring tribute show that is at Sibaya Casino only until Sunday, on the first leg of a countrywide tour.
A highly entertaining trip down memory lane, Sinatra and Me features seven local musicians and a stellar talent in tuxedoed vocalist Richard Shelton, who has been saluting Sinatra for some while and most recently wowed critics and crowds alike in London and Los Angeles.
Seen on television in the British series Emmerdale and in the American series House of Lies, Shelton is a charismatic performer who often, seen at the right angle and in the right light, and with Sinatra mannerisms down pat, bears quite a strong resemblance to Old Blue Eyes. He also explains during a fascinating anecdote from the show that the tuxedo he wears once belonged to Sinatra.
The big cherry on top is that the silver-haired crooner, with a twinkle in his eye and an easy manner, also has a voice of note – the closest to Sinatra I’ve ever heard.
The tour marks Shelton’s first to South Africa and one hopes he will be back again because he is a consummate professional whose standing ovation on his opening night at Sibaya Casino was well deserved.
Shelton is reportedly being backed elsewhere by Adam Howard’s 17-piece Joburg Big Band, but he is teamed in Durban with musical director and pianist Clifford Cooper (on a white baby grand), top Durban guitarist Nick Pitman, bassist Trevor Donjeany, KZNPO trumpeter Cathy Peacock, trombonist Christoff Spies and sax man Johan van der Molen.
Together, on an attractively lit stage, they go through all the Sinatra classics, Shelton offering many anecdotes in character as Old Blue Eyes. Then, shortly before interval, he drops the American accent to become himself, a man with a British accent, from Wolverhampton.
He opens act two with the show’s catchy title track, an original number in big band mode, then follows up with a great, slowed-down version of Tom Jones’s It’s Not Unusual, featuring a very nifty bass solo by Donjeavy. Both songs feature on an album Shelton plans to release in September.
Much of the show’s first half has Shelton, as Sinatra, suggesting that the audience imagine we are all in 1950s and 1960s America, Shelton even going so far as to point out members of the audience as being Gina Lollobrigida, Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, and hinting that Dean Martin may be buried in the baby grand.
Before all that threatens to get too cheesey, however, Shelton moves on to sharing casual, interesting anecdotes that mostly relate to the songs he performs.
Highlights include a heartfelt My Foolish Heart, performed a cappella to rekindle a memory Sinatra shared of singing the song, unaccompanied, to his then-wife, Ava Gardner, one night. Also a standout is Angel Eyes, a melancholic, three-in-the-morning-at-the-bar number.
Of course, all the biggies and more are here – invariably delivered with a glass of Jack Daniels (actually iced tea) in one hand. The opening numbers are Luck Be a Lady and I Get a Kick Out of You, which lead to I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Moonlight in Vermont, The Lady is a Tramp, The Summer Wind, Chicago, Come Fly With Me and the Grammy-winning It Was a Very Good Year.
The first half also offers snippets of a song Sinatra reportedly did not enjoy singing – the hit Strangers in the Night – before it closes with the gutsy That’s Life.
Second act highlights include Fly Me to the Moon (which Shelton tells us was the first song played on the moon), Mack the Knife, One For My Baby, Witchcraft and, inevitably, My Way and an encore of New York, New York.
The Durban performances are at 8pm nightly until Saturday (March 16) with a final show at 2pm on Sunday. Tickets cost R200 throughout and can be booked at WebTickets or by getting in touch with the Rockwood Theatre (phone 031 161 0000).
Thereafter Sinatra and Me moves to Pretoria’s Atterbury Theatre, where the March 20 concert has already sold out, leading to another performance having now been added there on March 26.
You can also catch Sinatra and Me at Gauteng’s Joburg Theatre (March 21 to 24), East London’s Guild Theatre (March 27), Port Elizabeth’s Broadwalk Casino (March 29) and Cape Town’s Paul Cluver Amphitheatre, Elgin (March 30). Booking is at WebTickets.