After playing venues across the world, Richard Shelton brings his extraordinary performance as Frank Sinatra in SINATRA: RAW to the LA Fringe Festival. The setting is the Purple Room in Palm Springs, and the occasion is Sinatra’s final concert before retiring in 1971.
Of course, he would return to live performances later in the 70’s, but this is Sinatra at the height of his vocal and communicative powers. And, as SINATRA: RAW reminds us, he is a man embittered against a world that seemed to be passing him by. Rock music had eclipsed the mid-century stylings of Sinatra and his musical comrades, leaving them television Christmas specials and guest star spots on variety shows.
Shelton’s script, no doubt honed over the years, brilliantly encapsulates the moment by offering us a concise but multi-layered portrait of the artist and the man. He does nothing to whitewash Sinatra, allowing him a drink between songs and the opportunity to rail against those who have wronged him. Not surprisingly, Ava Gardner and Peter Lawford are particular targets.
But it is the music that drove Sinatra, and that is where Shelton matches his character with his meticulous study of Sinatra’s carefully crafted phrasing and style. Shelton even remembers to credit Mabel Mercer as Sinatra always did.
Shelton’s musical performance is no simple imitation of the man. He completely inhabits Sinatra for 75 minutes. And, while the arrangements, the signature lyric repetitions, jazzy flights around the vocal line, and other Sinatraisms abound, what we really come away with is a fresh admiration for the artist as a musical trailblazer.
While intimate theatre’s embrace of an environmentally friendly, no-program policy is laudatory, it does mean that I am unable to mention the name of Shelton’s wonderful accompanist. He was introduced, and I thought I’d be able to find the name on the Fringe page. But no such luck.
The Broadwater Stage June 8 -24, 2023 https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/9679?tab=details