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This year marks the centenary of the great Frank Sinatra's birth – and this month marks the 65th anniversary of his European debut when he appeared at the London Palladium. To celebrate both events, he's returning to the legendary venue: live and (almost) in person.
The show is called Sinatra – the Man and the Music, and it differs significantly from all the other tribute shows that have been staged over the years, including The Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas that was a long-running West End hit and recreated a concert from his Vegas years with Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin. Instead of having Sinatra impersonators on hand to sing his songs, this show uses Sinatra himself to do so. He also, unlike other West End musicals that tell the stories of the careers of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (Jersey Boys) or Carole King (Beautiful), is there to narrate his own story.
This has been achieved by assembling a multi-media show drawn from the extensive audio and film archive of him in performance and interviews. If Frank Sinatra were alive today, of course, he'd be appearing at arena venues like the O2 or even stadiums like Wembley. In those environments, of course, all but those seated right at the front would be watching him on the giant video screens that are now standard in venues like that. So Sinatra – the Man and the Music follows that logic as audiences come to the Palladium to do so; but it packages those videos within a live show format – including a 24 piece band and 20 backing dancers – that make it multi-dimensional performance, too.
The result is a brand-new form of entertainment: not quite a concert, but not a musical either. It's translates the idioms of the concert stage and propels it into the theatrical arena, all achieved with state of the art technology, overseen by concert and theatre architect specialists Stufish Entertainment, whose credits stretch from working on the opening ceremony of the London Olympics to Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas and concert appearances of Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones and Elton John.
The company's CEO Ray Winkler tells me, "Frank, of course, is not with us, so we had to represent his presence. We've brought the thing that made Frank — his image and his voice — to the stage. You can't present him without a fantastic orchestra behind him, so that's what we've got. But the challenge is to somehow also invoke his spirit."
That's director David Gilmore's job, and he's had the complex job of choosing what to put in – and just as importantly, what to leave out – as he's watched the video footage and listened to the audio available. "It's like having a huge jigsaw puzzle on the table and trying to sort out the pieces you can use so that it will make a coherent picture."
It will be a pleasure to see Sinatra centre stage at the Palladium again, and on September 20 Liza Minnelli, who appeared with him regularly, will also be back there, when Bruce Forsyth interviews her onstage as part of An Intimate Evening with Liza Minnelli. So the Palladium is the place to be!
Sinatra at the London Palladium officially opens at the Palladium on 20 July 2015 and begins previews on 10 July 2015. The show is running for a limited season until 10 October 2015.