Sinatra Raw, Edinburgh Fringe, 4****: William Russell



by Richard Shelton


Frankenstein Pub, 26 George 1V Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN to 27 August 2018.

Weekdays 1.30pm

Runs 1 hr 15 mins No interval.


Review: William Russell, July 2018 at a London preview

Old Blue Eyes dissected

It is 1971, the Purple Room in Palm Springs and Frank Sinatra is appearing prior to his official retirement gig due a few weeks later. He has a bottle of Jack Daniels, cigarettes, a microphone and between numbers chats to the audience. This is Sinatra in his prime as a saloon bar singer – he is only 56 and after a year or two playing golf he returned to the stage appearing at Las Vegas and touring almost until his death. Richard Shelton’s script is selective – no mention of Mia Farrow – but the episodes are cleverly chosen and the result is a model of its kind – not the usual tribute show hagiography but a warts and all portrait of Old Blue Eyes. Shelton selects the bits the man with the glass in his hand and a captive audience wants to tell his listeners about.

We hear about his childhood, his pet hates like the publicist Shifty Lazaar, the columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, a lot about Ava Gardner, the love of his life, and how they were hounded by the press, what it is like having cameras forever shoved in your face, and his support for the Democratic party and liberal causes. He was badly let down by Jack Kennedy for whom he had campaigned endlessly. The President was due to visit Sinatra but on Bobby Kennedy’s advice the visit was called off and he stayed with the Republican Bing Crosby instead. Sinatra personally smashed up the helipad he had had built for the occasion and became a supporter of Ronald Reagan, but we don’t learn that either.

It was his links with the Mob that had caused the cold feet. He does not deny he knew members of the Mob – but hey, they owned Las Vegas in which he performed – but denies being in their pocket.

He is sometimesangry, sometimes charming, slightly dangerous, woos the audience, knocks back the Jack Daniels, talks about the Rat Pack, about Gardner, about Tommy Dorsey – Sinatra made his name singing with his band – and his film career which had its ups and downs. In the 1950s he was washed out, an ageing favourite of the defunct bobby soxers. Then he got cast as DiMaggio in From Here to Eternity , won an Oscar and never looked back.

Shelton looks just enough like Sinatra to convince – maybe he has a little more hair and maybe it is rather too exquisitely gray but he has the dinner suit, indeed it once belonged to the man. He also has a fine voice, the knack of ingratiating himself with the audience, picking on individuals, asking them to suggest a song – and is not phased when they do. He knows the Sinatra repertoire – and best of all has the obligatory blue eyes.

The songs are an eclectic mix – we don’t get Strangers in the Night, but we do get I’ve Got You Under My Skin, My Foolish Heart, I’m a Fool to Want You and – by request – The Lady is a Tramp. He ends with One For the Road, a song which defines Sinatra’s world weary man at the bar in the wee small hours persona. But it is not, of course, the end of the show. There remains My Way, the anthem for survivors which was one of his greatest hits.

There will be no more sophisticated and polished an act in Edinburgh this August. Richard Shelton does Sinatra proud.


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