Endstation Theatre Company’s Matt Silva vividly remembers the first time he connected with a Frank Sinatra song.
Every day at exactly 5 p.m., the artistic director would watch his maternal grandparents share a special toast over cocktails mixed by his grandfather.
“When they [toasted] each other, they wouldn’t say ‘Cheers’ or anything like that,” Silva says as he recalls the childhood memory that still brings tears to his eyes. “They would just clink glasses and [sing] ‘Cause I only have eyes for you.’”
It’s these kinds of memories that Silva and his creative team at Endstation hope to evoke with their production of “My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra,” which opens Friday.
“It’s just a big old celebration of his music,” says Jonathan Mousset, one of the actors in the production.
The love letter to Ol’ Blue Eyes, which includes performances of more than 50 Sinatra songs, puts a slight twist on Endstation’s tradition of staging jukebox musicals.
While the company’s actors have stepped into the shoes of icons like Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Buddy Holly during previous seasons, no one in the cast of “My Way” portrays The Sultan of Swoon onstage. Instead, the four actors play stylized versions of themselves as they croon beloved tunes like “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Lady is a Tramp” and “New York, New York.”
Interspersed between the American songbook standards is a conversation-like dialogue that recounts aspects of Sinatra’s life, some of his most famous quotes and interesting facts about the man known as The Voice.
“My Way’s” star truly is the songs, members of the cast say, and the numbers are getting something of the VIP treatment.
When the songsters perform, they will be backed by a jazz trio. And, it just so happens, the pianist in that lineup is none other than Vince di Mura, the award-winning musical director and composer who arranged the music for “My Way” when it was first staged in 2000 at the Tennessee Repertory Theatre in Nashville.
The musician, who is serving as the Endstation production’s musical director, says he hasn’t done the show since 2009.
“If we didn’t have Vince, I wasn’t going to do ‘My Way,’” says Silva, who has worked with the composer on previous projects.
Having di Mura there brings a different dynamic to the creative process, the cast says, especially because he is constantly adding to and embellishing the arrangements of the Sinatra songs.
For example, Mousset says, a cast member might be singing “My Funny Valentine,” when, all of a sudden, di Mura will play a two-bar interlude of “Strangers in the Night” underneath.
“You’re not going to communicate to the audience the recordings just with a piano, bass and drums,” di Mura says during a break from rehearsal. “So, somewhere in each of these songs, you have to remind them of what those recordings sounded like. And if you’re able to do that, it’s a kind of ear illusion. Their brains will fill in the blanks.”
Working with di Mura has turned even the rehearsals for “My Way” into a unique experience for even the greatest of Sinatra fans.
“It’s new every single time,” says actor David Bryant Johnson. “And then I realize after I’m singing the song — after I’m done — that I’m never going to hear that again. That was a moment in time.”
The music isn’t the only aspect of Endstation’s production helping create that moment in time.
The company has styled the Warehouse Theatre to look somewhat like a 1940s-era club, complete with cabaret-style seating in addition to the more traditional risers and an onstage open bar where the audience can purchase drinks, including Sinatra’s signature Jack Daniels on the rocks.
“I really wanted to shift us into a different world where we could experience the mood and the era of music,” says Silva.
Emma Schkloven covers arts and entertainment for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5489, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @byEmmaSchkloven.