Summer Wind Blows into Shreveport Little Theatre

Bill Goode
Bossier-Press Tribune

A Summer Wind blew into town this past weekend bringing more than 150 Young At Heart Ol’ Blue Eyes fans to Shreveport Little Theatre for “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra.” They came as Strangers in the Night and left not knowing where or when they enjoyed musical theater more. There was, however, one disappointing element – more on that later.

The nice and easy tone of the show didn’t disappoint, and neither did the song selections, costumes, ambience nor Eugen Crook’s nightclub set that provided a minimalist environment for the four talented song stylists – Dani Garza, Joanna Llambias, Leonard Yoakum and Bill Simms – to honor the Chairman of the Board.

Sinatra’s six-decade-plus career produced more than 1,300 recordings, a stellar night club and concert performance portfolio, movies and numerous hosting and guest starring appearances on radio and television. With so much material paying tribute to Sinatra isn’t Nice n’ Easy, especially if you throw in the “Rat Pack” salad days and the women he wed, wooed and squired.

But that was the challenge co-creators David Grapes and Todd Olson tackled with diamond cutter’s finesse, thereby shaping Sinatra’s legacy into a cohesive vehicle that showcases the man through his music – his way, of course.

Exactly what is Sinatra’s way? Attitude! Attitude expressed in everything he said and did, especially in how he sold a song. It’s in this arena the Shreveport theater production could have disappointed, but it didn’t

SLT co-directors Robert Darrow and Jared Wilson tackled the project with High Hopes, some Old Black Magic and a pinch of Witchcraft. They realized that Frank’s way requires breathe control, impeccable phrasing, intimacy, consummate musicianship and timing…with a little playful spirit, a wink, a nod and a few luscious broads nearby. This production has it all, and more, so the performance didn’t disappoint either.

The show opens with Leonard Yoakum and Bill Simms in brilliant white dinner jackets working the crowd, closely followed by tow beautifully costumed babes, Joanna Llambias in a flowing teal cocktail dress and Dani Garza in a purple knee-length creation. Garza begins singing Strangers in the Night followed by The Way You Look Tonight. The next two hours is a songfest, divided into medleys: Broadway, Cities, Young Love, Summer, Love and Marriage, Losers, Flirts, Moon Songs and Songs for Survivors.

Spotlight moments featured Nashville native Leonard Yoakum belting out The Sunny Side of the Street followed by two windy city vehicles, My Kind of Town and Chicago. Yoakum also provided well received comic elements. Playing frisky and slightly naught, Joanna Llambias vamped her way into men’s hearts with a sultry Where or When. The answer to her musical question: Here and Now. Bill Simms captures Sinatra’s vocal styling with Summer wind, The Tender Trap and One For My Baby among others. Did I mention he’s a technical sergeant serving at Barksdale AFB? Last but not least, Dani Garza. Her soulful My Funny Valentine establisher her torch singer credentials, while LA is my Lady, You’re Cheatin’ Yourself, and That Old Black Magic to demonstrate her range. As solo performers each one was a standout, as a close-harmony quartet, however, they shined even brighter. They also danced --- a little; some better than others.

The backup trio did their thing superbly. With musical director D.J. Harman and Nelda Milligan on keyboards and Mark S. Eubanks on drums, it’s no wonder a whole lot of toe tappin’ was goin’ on!

As good as Act One was, however, Act Two was better. Maybe it was the costume change. The two guys, now dressed in formal black tuxedos seemed to swagger and strut more, while the women, knockouts in gorgeous black and white gowns accessorized with long sleeved gloves, paraded proudly. The costumes certainly didn’t disappoint.

A few responsive and appreciative audience members mouthed lyrics, some sniffled, and many just closed their eyes, lost in memory. The woman sitting next to me said, “My husband used to sing me that song,” as she wiped away a tear. At intermission another patron was laughing as she told how she and her husband celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary by going out to a supper club. Learning of the celebration the lounge singer asked if they had a favorite song. “We didn’t really,” the woman said, “but my husband wanted to say something, so she shouted out: ‘Strangers in the Night.’” The woman looked at him, smiled, and said, “I wouldn’t brag about that song title if it were my fifth wedding anniversary.” Everyone laughed.

Show stopping moments included: New York, New York, My Way, That’s Life and It Was a Very Good Year. No disappointment there.

After the reprise of New York, New York, an new sound was heard, the sound of popping joints and stiffened limbs being stretched as an appreciative audience rose to its feet, boisterously grateful that this production had done Ol’ Blue Eyes proud.

“So,” someone might ask, “If there was nothing disappointing about the direction, performances, tone, set, costumes, backup musicians or song selection, what was disappointing?” Simply this: I couldn’t buy a cast album or CD of what I had just witnessed. You’ll understand what I’m talking about if you join the crowd at for “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra.”

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