Frank Sinatra, one of music’s great icons, is igniting the South African stage in a dazzling big band international show, SINATRA AND ME, featuring celebrated British performer, Richard Shelton who has been described as “one of the world’s finest Sinatra interpreters”. Shelton is an award-winning actor and singer and his show comes directly from the West End and Los Angeles. He will be accompanied on stage by Adam Howard’s 17-piece Joburg Big Band.
Speaking to Richard, I could tell that he carries the charm, manners and class that I can only imagine Old Blue Eyes embodied.
It’s wonderful how Frank Sinatra and his music is so timeless and that you can travel all over the world and everyone from different backgrounds all respond the same way to his music – what is it about him and his music that resonates with people from so many different backgrounds?
“Number one, the music is so beautiful; it’s so brilliantly written. The thing that separates Frank Sinatra from everyone else, and this is what makes him resonate, is that he was all about the truth. I think he was a very complex man. He knew a great sadness, he knew a great joy and he knew everything in between. When you hear him sing, you are listening to somebody who tells the truth with his emotions. When he sang ‘Come Fly with Me’ or ‘Fly me to the Moon’, you would genuinely fly to the moon with him. Or if he sang ‘One For My Baby’, you’re transported to the bar with him at 2am, while he sang about lost love. I think the beauty of the truth comes through with his phrasing and his voice, and I think it’s the passion that people get swept away with.”
I love that you are described as an interpreter and not as an impersonator of Frank Sinatra.
“My relationships with Frank Sinatra comes out of being an actor. It started in a drama called ‘Rat Pack Confidential’, which was a very hard hitting exposé of the life of the 5 men in the rat pack. I can only navigate my way into the mind and soul of Frank Sinatra as an actor. I don’t think I can impersonate him or mimic him. I can’t do that, but what I can do is evoke him, go inside him and bring him out. What you are seeing as described by people who have watched the show, is that you feel like you are in the room with him and that is a different experience to mimicry and to imitation. When you evoke, you are going from the inside. That is where the truth comes from. If you can get the character then the music and phrasing and everything else follows. Therefore I think you are offering people a glimpse what it might have been like to spend a bit of time with him.”
You’ve had this long relationship – where does Richard begin and end and where does Frank begin and end – is it difficult to separatee yourself from him?
“When I’m with him, when I am immersed in him, Richard exits the body. I completely let go of everything. There is no ego. I allow him to occupy me through processes, experience, imagination and energy. When I’m me, and doing my own music, then of course there is an influence – we are all influenced by so many musicians. Mozart for example was inspired by the classical composure who were before him. In the same way, Sinatra influences my music choices. But when I’m me, I’m me. I don’t let the two get confused.”
Do you remember the first time you ever heard him sing?
“I was aware of him as a little boy. There were photographs of him in magazines. I was about six or seven and I saw the photo of him, and said to my mother – “who is this man Frank Sinatra, because he could be me?” She looked at the photograph and couldn’t believe that it could. So even as a child I was aware of this man. I guess when I was 13 or 14 , my father bought Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ album and I listened to that and my voice fit. I understood the melody, I understood the lyricism, I understood what he was saying with the songs. I don’t know why or how, it was a hand in a glove moment; it just fit.”
You’ve travelled all over – is there a moment that has stuck out for you as a performer as Frank Sinatra?
“I think the important thing to say is that every performance has to be as fresh and original as the last. I never take it for granted. You have a fresh audience and they deserve 100%, so therefore the state I’m in, is as original and fresh as I could be – I’m in the moment completely. Every moment is special.”
“I’ve sung to royalty in Windsor Castle, I’ve sung in Stadiums, Theatres, globally – all sorts of wonderful places.”
“There is a moment that stands out, when I performed with Frank Sinatra’s original musicians; the rhythm section – piano, base and drums. I have to say performing with those 3 guys, and watching the pleasure on their faces was very special.”
Do you have a favourtie song of his or a moment in the show that lov eyout he most?
“My favourite song isn’t in the show as there are just too many songs to fit in the show. I’d love to sing all of them. My favourite song is a ballad about love and loss.”
“A song in the show called ‘Angel Eyes’, which he sang to the love of his life, Ava Gardner after the love had fallen apart; he would call her angel. It is a very sad song – it is a saloon song. It is about someone who has lost it all. The other song I love is ‘That’s Life’ – we can all identify with that. It is a song for the common man. We all have those moments when sometimes we are ahead and sometimes we’re behind – everyone is the same. It’s a great celebration song for the masses.”
Date: 20 March – SOLD OUT
Venue: Atterbury Theatre
Date: 26 March – EXTRA SHOW
Venue: Atterbury Theatre
Booking: www.itickets.com or www.atterburyteater.co.za
Dates: 21 to 24 March
Time: Thursday and Sunday at 3pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm
Ticket prices: From R150 to R400
Venue: Joburg Theatre (The Mandela)
Date: 27 March
Venue: Guild Theatre
Dates: 29 March
Venue: Boardwalk Casino
Date: 30 March
Venue: Paul Cluver