When I was a kid growing up in the decidedly un-jazzy wilds of Alaska, I spent hours in my room singing along with Frank Sinatra’s recording of “You Make Me Feel So Young.” I didn’t know it at the time, but a couple of decades later, I’d spend six months singing with Mr. S. himself.
You see, in 2010, I was the onstage “girl singer” in Twyla Tharp’s Broadway show, Come Fly Away. The show was, essentially, a ballet set to Sinatra’s music, and Twyla had the good sense to know that, when it comes to the Chairman of the Board, one should accept no substitutes, so she found a way to incorporate the real Sinatra into her show.
Through the magic of technology, Sinatra’s actual recorded voice was extracted from original recordings and piped into the theatre, backed by a live, onstage big band. Every night, thanks to Twyla’s vision and the technical team’s ingenuity, I sang a few solo numbers and, yes, a couple of “duets” with Frank Sinatra, including, poetically enough, “You Make Me Feel So Young.”
Over the course of Come Fly Away’s six-month run, I began to think of Sinatra’s iconic songs—and, by extension, Sinatra himself—as old friends (handsome, elusive, mysterious, sexy old friends, that is). With each performance, I was fascinated anew by the swaggering bravado of “Learnin’ the Blues,” the defiance of “That’s Life,” and the cool resignation of the barroom soliloquy “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”
There are countless books, articles, and documentaries about Sinatra’s life and career, including his politics, alleged mafia ties, and of course, his tumultuous love affairs. And yes, his life was by turns salacious and sad and he was, by every account, a complicated man. But on his centennial, my feelings about Frank Sinatra are simple: I am forever thankful to him for the ways his artistry has shaped the course of my life.
Sinatra pulled me out of my waitressing career and onto a Broadway stage. His sense of time, phrasing, and devotion to bel canto singing are the cornerstones of my own vocal approach. Thanks to Frank Sinatra, I believe in love and solitude and show business, not to mention the power of a good suit and a stiff drink.
The grand finale in Come Fly Away was “New York, New York.” Every single night, Sinatra’s voice would fill that big Broadway theatre, as he sang, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere; it’s up to you, New York, New York!” And every single night, as I remembered singing along with those Sinatra records in my little room, in my little Alaska town, tears of gratitude would fill my eyes.
Thank you, Frank Sinatra, and happy 100th. I love you madly.