Honoring the 100th birthday of an iconic performer whose career spanned five decades can take a while.
“Frank Sinatra at 100,” a celebration of the crooner’s life and oeuvre, marks his 100th birthday with a performance of 100 songs he performed throughout his 82 years. Held at Symphony Space’s 756-seat Peter Jay Sharp Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 17, the nine-hour event features some of the city’s brightest stars and Sinatra’s iconic music.
Produced and curated by Joel Fram and Annette Jolles, the hefty program is a format the longtime collaborators and Symphony Space regulars have worked with before. The pair also produced some of the organization’s signature “Wall to Wall” events, including an all-day Stephen Sondheim event and a cabaret program.
“Nothing’s better than a nine-hour marathon project,” said Fram.
Jolles was not a Sinatra expert when work began on the program, but early in her research she recognized the vastness and diversity of his catalogue.
“You think, okay are you really going to come up with 100 great songs?” she said. “When you actually start listing Frank Sinatra songs, without too much effort you hit 1,000 easily.”
The pair also sifted through many facets of the legendary entertainer’s career and persona, from his World War II-era swing songs to his turns in musical productions like “Pal Joey,” and dramatic roles, such as Major Bennett Marco in the 1962 film “The Manchurian Candidate.”
“Sinatra was a performer…he was a brilliant interpreter of songs,” said Jolles. “We set out to look for artists who are in their own right incredible interpreters of songs.
The program, broken into three, three-hour segments, features a diverse group of artists, including cabaret singers, dancers, and jazz musicians. The results aren’t imitations, the producers said, but themselves interpretations of songs that Sinatra made his own.
Cabaret artist Todd Londagin, who plays the trombone, sings and tap dances, performs the ballad “I Concentrate on You,” along with “The Coffee Song”, a novelty number that Sinatra performed in live shows, Fram said.
“When you look at photos of him, he so often has that smoky look or the hat tilted down, that dashing guy, but he was really funny, too,” said Jolles. “He has a sense of humor, and he has this wit to him.”
One of Fram’s favorite songs in the program is the melancholy Sondheim number “Send in the Clowns,” which Sinatra recorded in 1973. Perhaps surprisingly, jazz guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub will perform the song. Dancer Noah Racey and body percussionist Max Pollak fuse dance, vocals and percussion with “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
“We want the audience to be able to experience things that they know and love but be surprised by the context of them,” said Fram. “It’s like seeing an old friend in great new clothes.”
But more familiar contexts for Sinatra’s songs aren’t absent, with celebrated cabaret singer Marilyn Maye performing “I’ve Got the World on a String” and Broadway actor Rebecca Luker’s medley of “I Won’t Dance” and “Can’t We Be Friends.”
But perhaps the greatest surprise of the evening is in what’s missing: “Theme from New York, New York” is not in the program.
“What we are trying to do is take this generic image of a man and by these distinct performers create an awareness of the incredibly distinct variety that Frank embodied,” said Jolles.