Sinatra Jukebox

Reviewed at Crazy Coqs, London by Tom Vallance for Classical Source

A fine exponent of jazz and easy-listening vocals, Gary Williams has performed extensively and starred in the hit musical The Rat Pack, winning acclaim for his performance as Frank Sinatra. For his new cabaret act which pays tribute to arguably the best popular singer of the last century, Williams does not attempt an impersonation, but brings his own likeable persona to songs from the catalogue associated with the great Sinatra. Williams’s voice may not match master (one misses the driving energy during ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’) but it’s immensely pleasing, melodic, dead on pitch, and faithful to the composers’ intentions – all qualities which Sinatra would have approved.

Williams is also expert at ‘working’ the room, doubtless due to his many stints entertaining on cruise ships, discovering who in the audience is celebrating a birthday or special occasion, and his current show is geared to audience participation. Forms are placed on tables listing 100 songs associated with Sinatra. We are invited to tick the ones we would most like to hear, adding if we choose our name and reason. The trademark songs figure prominently, of course – ‘Come Fly With Me’, ‘My Kinda Town’, ‘New York, New York’ or, I’m sad to state, the portentous ‘My Way’ (which should have been left the property of Dorothy Squires).

Williams gives every number committed delivery, building an irresistible rhythm for ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, adopting a suitably pensive air for ‘A Very Good Year’, and conjuring a smoky saloon for the two beautiful ballads, ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘In the Wee Small Hours’, with a rarely-heard verse of the latter. For ‘I Love a Piano’ Williams blends Irving Berlin’s music with an affectionate tribute to some of the vocalists he most admires. Berlin’s gorgeous ‘Change Partners’ is given a gentle Latin rhythm, Harry the Piano’s expert backing framing Williams’s beguiling treatment of words and music – like Sinatra, he brings out all the beauty of such a ballad. ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ and ‘My Funny Valentine’ are given similarly loving renditions, with the latter ending on an impressively sustained, lingering note

Some requested titles he adeptly shapes into medleys, combining ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’ with ‘Young at Heart’ to notable effect.

Born in Grimsby, Williams gets laughs with banter about his home town, and demonstrates his linguistic abilities with some rapid Portuguese, which sounds breathtakingly authentic. His act has a party atmosphere which is infectious, and though his show is lengthy (two hours including a brief interval) it seems much shorter. The audience was not keen to let him go and encores followed including Johnny Mercer’s ‘Summer Wind’.

To hear standards sung by an accomplished crooner like Williams is many people’s kind of music, and though Williams had to finally come to a closing number, I think that most of admirers would have happily settled in for a dozen more.