Latest Review – Sinatra The Musical [Birmingham Repertory Theatre]

SINATRA THE MUSICAL

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Until Saturday 28 October 2023

Birmingham may not strike as the most obvious location to host the world premiere of a new musical based on the life of Frank Sinatra – New York and Las Vegas being the first two cities that spring to mind – but this Rep Original, expertly helmed by three-time Tony Award-winner Kathleen Marshall, and featuring a team of world class creatives and producers, glides onto the magnificent Rep Theatre stage in a production that’s as elegant, slick and effortlessly smooth as the great icon himself.

Two-time Tony Award-winner Joe DiPietro’s new musical explore Frank’s life and work in a raw and often unflinching, warts-and-all portrait that lays bare his myriad characters flaws and personal struggles. It is a portrait of stardom. One of a flawed man who made too many mistakes and nearly lost it all. A man whose every move and action was scrutinised by the press and gossip columnists of the day.

The show opens on New Year’s Eve, 1942, ahead of Sinatra’s star-making performance at New York’s Paramount Theatre, before flashing back to his earlier years as a hopeful singer-for-hire in the bars and restaurants of Hoboken, New Jersey. As his fame suddenly skyrockets, the musical rattles firmly ahead to explore the starry highs and devastating lows of the 1940s, navigating numerous career crises, personal demons and domestic strife, before culminating in one of the most spectacular and unexpected comebacks in music history.


Matt Doyle (Frank Sinatra) and Carl Patrick (George Evans). Photo by Manuel Harlan

Fresh from a fine stint as Seymour in the acclaimed off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors, Tony Award-winner Matt Doyle now makes his way across the pond to take on the monumental role of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” himself, and what a colossal role it is. Frank is on stage for not far off the entirety of the two-and-a-half-hour production and Doyle’s magnetic presence and natural ease on stage is vital to the show’s success. Doyle exudes star quality and charisma in a charged and energetic performance filled with charm, intensity and emotion. Doyle’s performance is more an interpretation than a straight up impression. Few in history can claim to match the pure, effortless quality of Frank’s voice, so Doyle doesn’t try to. He puts his own spin on the delivery and the vocals, and it feels all the better for it.

As the saying goes, behind every great man there stands an even greater woman, and Nancy Sinatra is certainly that. Australian stage star Phoebe Panaretos is superb as Frank’s first wife, left at home to raise their three children while having to deal with the humiliation of Frank’s numerous affairs with many of the biggest stars of the day. Panaretos gives a heartfelt and moving performance that really highlights the gut-punching consequences of Frank’s actions on the family unit. The chemistry between Panaretos and Doyle is strong and there are some very moving scenes involving the pair and their eldest daughter, Little Nancy.


Phoebe Panaretos (Nancy Sinatra) and Matt Doyle (Frank Sinatra). Photo by Manuel Harlan

Ana Villafañe is equally excellent as screen goddess Ava Gardner – Frank’s second wife following their extramarital affair – again demonstrating fine chemistry with Doyle and cleverly balancing the head strong nature of the fiercely independent Hollywood icon with a fragility and a desire to help her husband turn his life around and escape his alcoholic spiral.

There are strong supporting performances too from Dawn Buckland as Frank’s mother, Dolly, Vincent Riotta as Frank’s father, Marty, and Carl Patrick as Frank’s publicist and manager, George Evans, as well as two scene-stealing turns from Ryesha Higgs as Billie Holiday and Tyler Orphé-Baker as Nat King Cole.


Dawn Buckland (Dolly Sinatra) and Vincent Riotta (Marty Sinatra). Photo by Manuel Harlan

With the show focusing on Frank’s early stardom and pre-career revival years, the music featured includes many lesser-known songbook gems that often get overshadowed by much of his later career classics. There’s no My Way here, no Strangers in the Night or even Theme from New York, New York, save a brief little interlude during the curtain call. There are plenty of well-known hits to enjoy, however,, though for the most part the show shines the spotlight on many of the under-appreciated Columbia singles released throughout the 40s, all of which are expertly performed by the on-stage/behind curtain orchestra.


Matt Doyle (Frank Sinatra) and Spin (Ensemble). Photo by Manuel Harlan

Though similar in structure to some of the other big Jukebox biographical musicals – Jersey Boys being the most obvious comparison – Sinatra The Musical feels much more intimate and minimalist in its approach. The songs are rarely rousing showstoppers, the orchestrations have that relaxed, easy-listening feel, and the staging is equally restrained and minimalist in its execution, though its a nonetheless sophisticated, polished and eye-opening production that sheds a fascinating new light on Frank’s life and career.

With tickets selling fast for this limited world premiere run, West End and US transfers are inevitable, but for now, get yourself down to The Rep and catch this fabulous new production while you can.


Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre: Saturday 28 October 2023

For more information, and to book tickets, please CLICK HERE.


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