The jackpot for a theater casting director is finding a triple threat —a performer who can act, sing and dance.
So it must feel like a Powerball win when the director gets a quadruple threat — a performer who can act, sing, dance, and play a cool piano.
That's what director Michael Mathews hit when he snared Matty Colonna, a smooth crooner and dancer who can tickle the ivories and (if you've seen him in previous shows like The Andrews Brother, West Side Story, The Addams Family and, most of all, as Paul in A Chorus Line) act — and is good looking to boot. Quintuple threat perhaps?
Colonna is just one of four talented performers, including director Mathews himself, in My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, playing matinees and evenings through Aug. 14 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre.
The four, which also includes Jessica Mathews (Anna in The King and I) and Molly Ross (Sandy in Grease), do much more than justice to some of Sinatra's classics like Fly Me to the Moon, New York, New York as well as the lesser known of the 1,300 recordings he made during his 60-year career. The show comes in at a little more than two hours, but it seems to fly by, thanks to the performers and the live, on-stage combo of music director William Coleman (piano), Kirk Reyes (bass) and Elwood Bond (drums), the sweetest little trio you could imagine.
Set designer Todd Everest sets the exact mood, with a simple, multi-level stage, a backdrop with Sinatra's familiar autograph, and the suggestions of Sinatra's milieu: A well-stocked bar, a cozy table for two, a fedora, a stand-up microphone, and a piano laden with half-empty glasses.
Mathews starts the show explaining that this isn't an impersonation; it's a tribute to Sinatra's songs, so there's no cheesy attempt to copy Sinatra's sound, though some of his trademark phrasing and riffing does come through. A little context comes between songs, as the singers recall some of Sinatra's most famous quips and sayings, his style, his lady loves, and his ups and downs. A delightful bonus is Colonna and Ms. Ross doing some of choreographer Darla Melendez's silky steps as Mathews and Mathews sing.
But, in the end, it's the songs and how they're done by these four singers and combo that make the show the joy that it is.
The first half is mostly up-tempo, sometimes a tad too up-tempo (opening night jitters perhaps)? As the show goes on, the performers settle into it and hit every note just right, from The Best Is Yet to Come to High Hopes, I Love Paris, to the lesser known Here's to the Losers and This Is All I Ask.
As is often true with life itself, the second half ratchets up a notch, highlighted by a touching It Was a Very Good Year, with the young years sung by the youthful Ross and Colonna and the middle and later years by a radiant Jessica Mathews and Michael Mathews. Ross shines in a slow and easy You Go to My Head that really shows her voice. Mathews is a heartbreaker in One More for the Road, as he leans on the piano, sips a strong drink, his eyes shaded by a Sinatra-like fedora, and his body language radiating regret. Wow, what a mood setter.
The close, four-part harmonies on such songs as Moonlight Serenade and Dream, are sheer bliss, perhaps the best yet at the Show Palace. These four performers have that elusive stage chemistry that makes a show soar. Colonna and Mathews do seem like best buddies, and the ladies do seem like true loves (the married Mathews are for sure).
And Mathews' energetic audience-surfing is an unexpected hoot.
Longtime Sinatra fans may miss that slightly nasal voice, perfect phrasing, casual demeanor and sexy delivery of the man they called the "chairman of the board.'' But much of it comes through in My Way, which is all we can hope for and a totally delightful way to remember him and his songs.