“Sinatra” at the Birmingham Rep Theatre takes audiences on a nostalgic journey through the life of the legendary Frank Sinatra, a journey that is beautifully underscored by the classic tunes that have become synonymous with his name. Yet, despite the musical’s grand ambitions, it struggles to strike a chord when it comes to emotional depth.
The heart of any musical lies in its ability to draw the audience into the characters’ lives, making them feel the triumphs and tribulations as if they were their own. Unfortunately, “Sinatra” falls short in this department. While the lyrics of each song effectively narrate the story, they often lack the emotional punch needed to elevate the characters’ experiences. The result is a production that, despite its visually striking moments and memorable tunes, leaves viewers wanting more in terms of genuine connection and resonance.
Kathleen Marshall’s direction and choreography, while vibrant in certain scenes, suffer from repetitiveness. The constraints imposed by the script and set design become apparent as similar scenes unfold, struggling to differentiate themselves. The energetic performances of the ensemble, particularly during the non-naturalistic moments, breathe life into the production, but the overall static nature of the direction hampers the musical’s momentum.
Ana Villafañe, portraying the enigmatic Ava Gardner, stands out as a beacon of brilliance. With a voice that effortlessly glides through the musical notes and a stage presence that commands attention, Villafañe embodies the essence of Gardner. Her performance resonates with a conviction that brings depth to the character, creating a memorable portrayal that lingers in the audience’s memory.
Phoebe Panaretos, as Nancy Sinatra, expertly navigates the emotional complexities of her character. Despite the limited exploration of Nancy’s role in the story, Panaretos infuses the character with genuine emotion, connecting with the audience on a heartfelt level. Her ability to convey vulnerability and strength simultaneously adds layers to Nancy, elevating the character beyond the constraints of the script.
In the titular role, Matt Doyle steps into the shoes of Frank Sinatra with confidence and skill. His portrayal captures Sinatra’s charm and charisma, allowing the audience to glimpse the magnetism that made Sinatra a legend. However, Doyle grapples with the limitations of Joe DiPietro’s script, which fails to fully flesh out Sinatra’s character. While Doyle brings life to Sinatra’s story and music, the script’s lack of depth prevents the audience from forging a profound emotional connection with the iconic singer.
Ryesha Higgs as Billie Holiday breathes life into her limited role, effortlessly transforming into the soulful singer. Higgs’s powerful vocal performance and commanding stage presence ensure that Billie Holiday leaves a lasting impression, despite the constraints of the character’s presence within the narrative. Her portrayal adds a touch of authenticity to the musical, capturing the spirit of the legendary jazz vocalist.
Throughout the performance, the ensemble deserves a special mention. Their collective energy and synchronized movements inject vitality into the production, enhancing the musical’s overall visual appeal. Their dedication and talent shine through, contributing significantly to the vibrant atmosphere of the show.
Noteworthy contributions from the creative team include Tim Mitchell’s lighting design, effectively setting the mood, although its repetitiveness reflects the limitations imposed by the script and direction. Jon Morrell’s costumes are fitting and aptly capture the era, while Akhila Krishnan’s projections stand out as a remarkable design element, fleshing out the world of the musical. Peter McKintosh’s detailed set design showcases meticulous attention to visual detail, although it feels confined and repetitive due to the constraints of the writing. The incorporation of the band into the set adds a welcome dynamic, offering an authentic musical backdrop to the narrative.
In essence, “Sinatra” at the Birmingham Rep Theatre is a visually engaging production with a strong cast and a repertoire of timeless songs. However, its inability to create a profound emotional connection between the audience and the characters hampers its impact. While the musical offers glimpses of brilliance, it ultimately leaves spectators yearning for a more profound and heartfelt exploration of the man behind the music.
Sinatra the Musical plays at the Birmingham Rep until 28th October 2023. Tickets available here.