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One More For My Baby

MusicalFare's new Sinatra revue opens next Wednesday, July 6.

The music of Frank Sinatra has been very good to MusicalFare. A few years ago, the company scored a huge hit with My Way—a Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, an engaging revue of his most popular songs. Artistic director Randy Kramer, had always thought about returning to the Sinatra songbook, but with a musical that told a story, rather than with a revue. This idea has, at last, come to fruition, and the result, One More for My Baby, opens at MusicalFare in Snyder next Wednesday.

“We went to David Grapes with the concept,” explains Kramer, referring to the Colorado-based co-creator of the Sinatra revue, as well as shows centered on the music of Tony Bennett, Johnny Mercer, and Nina Simone. The two men had gotten to know each other several years ago while Grapes was working at Artpark in Lewiston. Grapes wrote the script, working with Kramer and John Fredo, who plays the central character.

Fredo is a popular MusicalFare performer, who had proven he could channel the Sinatra persona in My Way. The idea was to center the show on a 50-year-old man who has made his living as a Frank Sinatra impersonator, and is now having a crisis about his own identity.

“This guy owes money to his ex-wives, and is having visitation issues with his daughter,” explains Kramer. “Let’s just say he has many questions in his life.”

Fredo is joined on stage by Don Gervasi, a charismatic Buffalo performer best known for his work in the improvisational comedy troupe, Eclectic Improv Company. Gervasi will play a half dozen other characters opposite Fredo including his manager, a fan, a soldier, and, naturally, the inevitable bartender.

Asked about the enduring popularity of Frank Sinatra, Kramer becomes contemplative.

“I like Sinatra’s music,” he concedes. Then he stresses, “But I’m not a fanatic.”

Kramer contends that having some critical distance from the Sinatra repertoire has been helpful.

“The difference between My Way and this show is the dramatic context,” he explains. “These songs are simply very well written. And we’ve found moments to include them in the story in ways that are suprisingly appropriate and often very powerful.”

And of course, the song list is extraordinary. Sinatra recorded a litany of great songs of the 20th century: “All of Me,” “Blue Skies,” “All or Nothing at All,” “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You,” “New York, New York,” “World on a String,” “I’ll Never Love Again,” “The Song is You,” “Be Careful It’s My Heart,” “I’ll be Seeing You,” “It Worries Me,” “Baubles Bangles and Beads,” “That’s Life,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Autumn in New York,” and, of course, “One for My Baby.”

In addition to being unmistakably associated with Sinatra, these songs gain emotional power from the connections that audience members make between the familiar tunes and their own lives.

The show premiered at Little Theatre of the Rockies in Colorado, a longtime summer theater, where the response was very positive. Many people in Buffalo might not consider, when they give harsh assessments to brand new locally written plays, that when they see plays that have played in New York, or the classics, they are seeing scripts that have been refined through hundreds of performances. This time, even a week of Colorado audiences has been a huge benefit for MusicalFare.

“Colorado was extraordinarily helpful,” says Kramer. “We were able to change things that didn’t work. We had just four days, but we drove ourselves crazy, listening to audience reactions, and making adjustments.

“On the one hand,” he continues, “in the big picture, I had to be away from MusicalFare for a full month, and leaving the company for that long a time was major for me. It was good to know it can run without me. But there is also the incredible value of a second production.

“For example, in our first version, we had the song ‘My Way’ about 15 minutes before the end fo the show. Well, this was confusing to audiences, because emotionally, that number felt like the culmination. When they heard that song, they expected the show to be over. We moved it.”

Western New York audiences can see the result when John Fredo and Don Gervasi perform One More for My Baby, July 6 to August 6. Kramer has directed the production with music direction by Jason Bravo, set design by Chris Schenk, lighting and sound design by Chris Cavanagh, costumes by Susan Drozd, and costumes for John Fredo by Anne Toewe. Call 839-8540 for tickets.