We probably all know some detail about the life of legendary singer and actor Frank Sinatra, and despite the fact he died over twenty years ago, there are still legions of fans who know even the most obscure songs from his repertoire. The Edinburgh Fringe production, Sinatra Raw attempts to fill in some of the gaps, from Sinatra’s fight to take his first breath, through to his retirement in 1971.
Those legions of fans will know that following that ‘retirement’ Sinatra went on to perform for another two decades, but it’s in 1971 that we find ourselves face to face with ol’ blue eyes himself. The Crazy Coqs becomes The Purple Room in Palm Springs, and Cary Grant appears to be sitting at a table just along from mine. It’s the ideal venue really, you can imagine it’s the type of place Frank would have performed an intimate gig, and as you sit back with a cocktail, while Sinatra croons, you can feel the world melt away.
Sinatra is portrayed by Richard Shelton, a talented performer from Wolverhampton rather than Hoboken, but you’d never know it. Shelton is in character from the moment he walks in the room, and armed with a bottle of Jack Daniels, he begins what was intended to be Sinatra’s final performance. Between each musical number Shelton, as Sinatra, shares stories from the annuls of Sinatra history; his marriage to Nancy, his affair with Ava Gardner, and the highs and lows of his career.
The stories themselves are interesting, and at times revealing, as the title suggests Sinatra Raw doesn’t pull any punches, and we are left in no doubt as to where Sinatra stood on a variety of subjects, and individuals. As a performer, Shelton seems most comfortable when singing, belting out those classic songs with an uncanny similarity to the original recordings.
But he’s equally at home interacting with the room, with gentle quips and subtle winks he charms his audience, and it’s in the final twenty minutes or so, which is almost entirely unscripted, that you see the most natural performance come through. Singing his way through that famous back catalogue, with only a pianist accompanying, Shelton reminds us what made Frank Sinatra such an undeniable star.
The concept of using the concert setting in Sinatra Raw to share these stories works well for the most part, eventually the audience realises that the strongest parts of the show come in song form, and so end up yearning for the next number. At times it’s easy to forget this isn’t the real Sinatra, and the looks of delight on the faces of a room full of fans only confirms they aren’t yet ready to face the final curtain.