This Â£5 million ($8,282,500) production opened on Wednesday March 8th at the London Palladium. It features never before seen footage of Sinatra at his prime which has been technically enhanced and projected onto dozens of moving screens some 20 feet tall onstage. A live 24 piece orchestra (atop a traveling, tiered band stand which at various times during the production raises, lowers and moves across the stage) plays orchestrations based on the original charts, and a company of 20 performers sings and dances interacting with the Sinatra footage as if he were a live cast member.
I arrived at the theatre with misconceptions of the production. I expected to see more of a storyline with Sinatra as the lead. For the first few minutes I was mildly disappointed. I feared a flat emotionless interaction something akin to a slideshow or home movie with music. What developed was far from a home movie. Director David Leveaux masterfully blended together high technology with live musicians and performers turning what could have been an emotionless biographical slide show into a live theatrical tribute. Leveaux had so much happening on stage that I found I couldn't possibly take it all in at one sitting. It was a cinematic and theatrical feast for the eyes and senses. I felt like I was at the same time watching and participating in a live documentary. He is a director whose vision is far more cinematic than old school theatrical, enabling productions like this to appeal to both an older audience and the younger MTV generation.
Another thing that caught me by surprise was the choreographer Stephen Mear. His choreography was never the same. Mear succeeded in stylistically harmonizing with each song and emotionally progressing the storyline through dance. It looked natural on the bodies of the dancers who in turn made it all appear easy and effortless.
Musical supervisor Gareth Valentine seamed the old standard Sinatra tunes together with his own new musical arrangements so fluidly, I had no idea if what I was hearing was old or new.
The orchestra was as much a part of the show as the dancers. They seemed to be having a great time enthusiastically interplaying with one another and the dancers as they backed up the legendary Sinatra. Their sound was fabulous and it was fun watching them onstage as a character in the production.
As I said earlier the performers made the dancing look easy and effortless. Each was highly accomplished as not only dancers but also singers and actors. They worked tightly together as an ensemble, sharing the stage and enjoying themselves.
The set design by Tom Pye was minimal yet stylistic allowing the footage of Sinatra to be the main focus.
Sinatra who is larger than life was fittingly Larger Than Life. Looming on screens 20 feet tall, sharing life anecdotes, personalizing his pains, loves and joys. You'll see footage of him collected from films, TV programs, home videos and never before seen private film collections. The quality of this collection is outstanding creating a virtual Sinatra who moves around the stage at times almost lifelike, still owning the stage in the way that only he can.
I thoroughly enjoyed 'Sinatra at the London Palladium'. This production is a live concert, documentary, and all around tribute. If you missed seeing Sinatra perform live, or just miss seeing him come to the Palladium and experience him like never before.
'SINATRA AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM' is written by Bill Zehme and produced by Running Subway, Act Productions, Nederlander International and Michael Gardner with Jack Utsick & Karl Sydow, in association with Sinatra Enterprises and is sponsored by American Airlines.
Monday-Saturday at 7.30pm Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm
Tickets priced from Â£25-Â£55 Box Office: 0870 890 1108
(Reduced price preview tickets will be available) website: www.sinatra.com
For you tech heads or just plain curious below is information on the technology behind 'Sinatra at the London Palladium'.
The 35MM Film
The original 35mm films are work prints, never before seen, which Frank Sinatra made of the first eight episodes of the TV program he was shooting for ABC television in 1957 and 1958. Kinescopes exist of these shows made as they were broadcast (those are videotapes of the monitor used during the broadcast) but the quality of the sound and picture were poor. Sinatra, at his own expense, had these initial performances shot on a single 35mm film camera as well. He performed with just a reference piano (orchestral tracks were added later). These films were processed and partially assembled but eventually just stored away in his personal archive. As part of the exclusive relationship with Sinatra Enterprises, archivists working for the production uncovered the un-seen material.
The quality of the black and white film stock is remarkable, superior in every way to existing video tape technology of the time. The separated vocal audio track surpasses even the studio recordings Sinatra made. Most importantly the tracks allow us to pristinely add his original vocals to our live onstage orchestra.
After the 2k digital transfers were made, the images were restored using the very latest in computer technology. Then, the rotoscoping process began' every individual black and white frame had the background 'cut out' from the foreground image. Although this is done on computer, it requires the steady hand of an artist. There are 24 frames for every second of film. A minute of onstage footage therefore requires 1440 frames of rotoscoping. There are over 36,000 frames used in the production.
This footage, as well as later performances which have been digitally treated, is projected onto dozens of moving surfaces using cutting edge high definition projection and LED technology, and is composted with hundreds of photos, historical footage, home movies, and audio recordings of Sinatra's personal interviews