Review: Sinatra The Musical

Jessica Harris watches Birmingham Rep’s tale of Old Blue Eyes.

The story of Frank Sinatra’s early career is a fascinating one. This fast-moving production by the Birmingham Rep tells it in a manner that finds the humanity in his character, as well as revealing his flaws.

Strong-headed, a womaniser, with a weakness for a drop of the hard stuff, Sinatra is also depicted as generous, loving and, at heart, a family man. The incongruities don’t end there. At times he was associated with the Mafia; on other occasions he refused to play in segregated clubs. And, throughout his early years, he battled with record companies which were quick to exploit him when there was money to be made but slow to defend him when the odds were stacking up.

This complex character is brilliantly portrayed by Matt Doyle. Charismatic, with a voice of honey, and with Sinatra’s body language perfectly captured, he takes his audience with him. From the penury of Sinatra’s early years in New Jersey, to his marriage to Nancy and the birth of their three children, to the passionate but doomed love affair with Ava Gardner, Doyle’s presence on the stage is the glue which holds the whole together.

A strong cast adds energy and sparkle, and delivers a high standard of singing and dancing all round. Phoebe Panaretos is a strong counterpart as Nancy Sinatra, whilst Ana Villafañe plays a flirtatious and single-minded Ava Gardner. Sinatra’s manager, George, is portrayed as understanding yet grounded by George Evans, whilst Dawn Buckland gives a comedic portrayal of Dolly Sinatra, mother to Frank.

Songs with which Sinatra is associated run throughout. Many are sung by Doyle, whose ability to croon in the style of Sinatra is remarkable. The opening number, All of Me, sets a high bar which Doyle maintains in That’s Life as the climax to the first act. The second act includes a lovely duet between Sinatra and the character of Billie Holiday, One for My Baby (and One More for the Road). As Sinatra and Holiday say, they both put themselves into their songs.

An endearing kitchen scene in Act One, where Sinatra and Nancy’s sisters tease each other, is mirrored in Act Two where Ava Gardner and Sinatra, along with his parents, duet together to You Make Me Feel So Young. In contrast to the frequent flirtation, a scene where Sinatra and his daughter, young Nancy, sing of their love for each other is full of emotion.
Set and costumes add a further richness to the production. Backdrops are flown in, whilst furniture slides sleekly in and out, making swift changes to the setting. Costumes change equally quickly, from vibrant colours to pastels to muted colours enhanced with glitter and dazzle. Lighting effects often give the set an Edward Hopper feel, the bar scene with Sinatra and Holiday particularly reminiscent of the lonely nature of show-business.

Ultimately, the abiding memory of this highly polished production is that of a man who stood and faced the odds, and who did as his Sicilian parents challenged him to do: “Be the proud son of proud immigrants”.

Sinatra The Musical was produced by the Birmingham Rep in association with Universal Music Group Theatrical and Frank Sinatra Enterprises. It was written by Joe Dipietro and directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Set design was by Peter McKintosh, costume design by Jon Morrell and musical supervision by Gareth Valentine.

It runs at The Rep until 28th October. For further information visit

Pics – Manuel Harlan.