Christmas My Way
Four gifted actor/singers evoke a heaping helping of holiday-season joy in "Christmas My Way," an unpretentious and breezily entertaining revue of yuletide tunes, emphasizing the songs crooned by and/or associated with legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra, while lightly touching upon his personality and career.
This low-key show also apparently strives to capture the nostalgic glow of the sorts of television variety specials that were so popular in the 1960s, starring the likes of Sinatra, Judy Garland and Andy Williams.
Featuring many fine songs performed with style and zest, the show is less concerned with comedy. It’s punctuated by scattered tidbits of information about Sinatra, delivered by the cast, such as the superstar’s romance with actress Ava Gardner. Yet this theme takes a back seat to what is essentially a straightforward cavalcade of beloved songs and lesser known tunes, presented in a cabaret format.
Scripting is minimal in a production billed as "created by David Grapes and Todd Olson." Grapes directed, and the musical director/arranger is Vince Di Mura, who leads a superb band that captures the jazzy, ebullient joy of pop American music from a more innocent era.
This is an ensemble effort through and through, yet it appears to have been inspired by Luca Ellis’ acclaimed past impersonation of Sinatra in two charming book musicals that previously premiered in L.A.: "Hoboken to Hollywood" and "Louis and Keely-Live at the Sahara: A Vegas Holiday."
He also played Old Blue Eyes in the "Rat Pack" show at the Sahara in Las Vegas. Ellis is matinee-idol handsome, a winning performer and an exceptional singer. Though he doesn’t look much like Sinatra, he does a crackerjack job of conjuring the famous singer’s voice and style, as well as his rascally charm.
Luca’s repertoire here includes several of the expected Sinatra classics, such as "New York, New York," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Fly Me to the Moon" and one that simply had to be included, as suggested by the title, a smashing rendition of "My Way."
First-rate funnyman Jason Graae has less opportunity here than one might hope for in displaying his comic genius. He evokes fun when reciting a sardonic adaptation of "The Night Before Christmas." But he is also a first-rate vocalist, and manages to inject his impish personality here and there, eliciting plenty of laughs and audience empathy when he makes a joke out of forgetting a few lyrics (shades of "The Carol Burnett Show"). A highlight is his sprightly rendition of "Chicago," with the help of a large candy cane to evoke vaudeville and Christmas at the same time. He also croons a wicked "Witchcraft."
Vivacious and talented Beth Malone demonstrates her stellar abilities in a superb rendition of Judy Garland’s famous number, "The Man That Got Away" while excelling in other solos and duets. The splendid Heather Lee has her finest moment in the spotlight with Cole Porter’s haunting "Night and Day." These two ladies are solid pros, blending class, vocal prowess and warmth throughout.
Among evergreen holiday songs performed in solos, duos, or group numbers are "I’ll Be Home For Christmas," "An Old-Fashioned Christmas," "It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," "Winter Wonderland" and Mel Torme’s immortal "A Christmas Song."
The lovely production design is tastefully lavish, with credit due to set designer Bruce Goodrich, lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick, and costume designer Gene Barnhart.
For those in the mood for an uplifting and consummately performed musical evening, this is a Christmas show that will likely be one that goes your way.
"Christmas My Way" runs through Dec. 31 at the El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. For info or tickets, call 818-508-4200 or visit www.elportaltheatre.com