REVIEW: Sinatra: Raw (Wilton’s Music Hall) ★★★★
This was my first visit to Wilton’s Music Hall and I have to say it is a beautiful venue. The main auditorium is like a small Cadogan Hall, with balcony seating which afforded a great view of the stage.
The show is performed by Richard Shelton, a British actor who now resides in America, who has previously taken on the role of Frank Sinatra to critical acclaim in the play Rat Pack Confidential.
Here, Shelton is on his own on stage, simply accompanied by a pianist. The year is 1971 and Frank is on stage at The Purple Room in Palm Springs. I initially thought that this was a verbatim retelling of a Sinatra show but in fact Shelton has written the show and has obviously mined a huge amount of source material.
Sinatra’s life story is incredibly interesting – the music, the films, the women and the persistent rumours of mafia connections. His influence reached to the top of US politics with a relationship with John F Kennedy; he was also a strong supporter of the Civil rights Movement and provided financial support to Martin Luther King Jr. There is a huge amount to pack in and Shelton manages to include many threads of Sinatra’s life and spins them into a dazzlingly entertaining evening.
The first part of the show is very much about telling Frank’s story. There are a handful of songs including “I’ve got you under my skin” and “It was a very good year” but the focus is much more on the man than the music.
It is a fairly daunting task to work Sinatra’s life and music into an hour and a half show but Shelton does it superbly, cleverly working is some of the singer’s most famous lines “alcohol may be man’s worst enemy but the bible says love your enemy” while chugging away on a bottle of Jack Daniels (that he later confesses is flat coke!)
After the interval Shelton goes into much more of a straightforward music show; the hits come thick and fast and the story telling takes a back seat to the music. Shelton works deftly through “Fly me to the moon”, “Summer Wind”, “Chicago”, “New York, New York” “Mac the Knife”, and “My Way” amongst others. For his encore the audience are invited to shout out requests for songs. Testament to Shelton and his pianist that they are able to perform some of the (to me) lesser known songs that are requested by a clearly dedicated Sinatra audience.
Shelton has a really strong voice and gets Sinatra’s intonations and phrasings spot on, although he slightly lacks the warm depth of Sinatra’s voice that made his sound so incredibly unique.
I did find it a little bizarre that having worked so hard to create such an authentic atmosphere for the show, Shelton allows the pianist to use an iPad! It is deeply incongruous and somewhat distracting. However, it is a small niggle with a show that is really enjoyable.
Reviewed by Emma Heath
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