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March 2001

Frankly Speaking

A no-holds-barred look at the life of Ol' Blue Eyes

Chairman of the Board, Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frankie Boy — every nickname that adoring fans gave Frank Sinatra from his wartime debut to his death in 1998 pointed to what they loved about him most: his style. Smooth and dapper, always ready with a joke or a light for a lady, Sinatra was the perfectly irrepressible bad-boy bachelor making the 1950s and 1960s swing. As a force who shaped popular music, a Hollywood hero and a man as human as they come, the great hipster lives on in “The Voice: The Frank Sinatra Story” through March 31 at the Komödie im Bayerischen Hof.

For Broadway-trained director and playwright Mathias Kosel, musical theater is the perfect medium for getting to know the man behind the myth. “You always heard stories about Frank and the mob and so on, but what interested me was the real person behind the persona,” says Kosel. “Sinatra reached the top of his game professionally, but personally he was always struggling to find happiness. He was just this kid from Hoboken who kept fighting to make it, and the emotion he brings across in his songs tells a lot about the ups and downs he faced throughout his life.”

Kosel traces Sinatra’s meteoric rise to stardom starting in 1943, when he left the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra to go solo in New York City. The weekly radio program “Your Hit Parade” as well as gigs in bars and nightclubs proved that not only could he make it in the Big Apple — he could make it anywhere, Tinsel Town included. In addition to a series of hit albums in the late 1950s he graced the silver screen in such popular musical comedies as High Society with starlet extraordinaire Grace Kelly.

Life at the top had its privileges — Lear jet hops to Las Vegas, the ubiquitous martini with Rat Pack pal Dean Martin and a love life littered with broken-hearted broads. Sinatra switched partners like other people square dance, a merry-go-round of glamour kittens and good-time gals that came to an end when he met and married his fourth wife, Barbara Marx, in 1980. From wives two and three, Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, to affairs — some rumored, some real — with Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich and many more, Sinatra’s romantic roster was wild enough to keep his tough-guy image afloat even when he hit rock bottom.

L.A. actor and singer Leslie Bisno uses his boyish good looks and velvety vocal charm to conjure up Sinatra in all his many facets. “Bob Dylan said Sinatra was a singer who sang without a mask,” says Bisno. “That’s mostly the case, although he also had a darker side he tried to keep to himself. He brought a lot of feeling to popular music that wasn’t there before, say in Bing Crosby’s music. Nothing against Bing, but Billie Holliday was one of Sinatra’s big influences, and that’s the kind of emotional power that shows up in his songs.”

For Bisno and for critics who place him at the top of pop’s pantheon, it’s Sinatra’s magical phrasing that makes his work a milestone in modern music. His superb, subtle sense of timing or “behind-the-beat attack” gave him an expressive edge, a special something other artists lacked. “He changed pop music,” says Bisno, “because he could sing it like jazz improvisation. He would sing a line and dance the lyrics out on top of it — up over the rhythm, like riding a wave.” Sinatra sang like he lived, sailing over the bright surface of success with the vague hope that the party would never end. Kosel’s story recounts the high points and the low through to Sinatra’s first retirement in 1971.

The show’s script is in German but the 20 feature songs — including one each written by Kosel and Bisno — are sung in original English. The small cast of singers and dancers includes the talented Munich actress Viola Thaller as Ava Gardner backed up by the Blue Eyes Swing Band. The good old days of romantic tumult spiced with political intrigue come back to life in the Komödie’s elegant playhouse, a setting Sinatra himself surely would have toasted with a tip of his trademark hat and a raised highball glass. “I am a thing of beauty,” Sinatra once said. Kosel’s production proves him right.

Daily at 20:00. To reserve tickets, call (089) 29 16 16 33, or visit the Komödie im Bayerischen Hof at Promenadeplatz 6 (Tram 19; U-Bahn Odeonsplatz). A showtunes CD is also available.

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