Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Saturday, 25 February 2006

Ol' Blue Eyes' is back on stage

By Caroline Briggs
BBC News entertainment reporter

Sinatra's image is projected onto moving screens

Frank Sinatra, who died in 1998, is being brought 'back to life' in a new 5m stage show in London's West End.

Titled simply Sinatra - the ambitious show uses film, video and a live orchestra to create the impression of a performance by the late singer.

And it is particularly fitting that the show premieres at the London Palladium, where Sinatra made his European debut in 1950.

Keith Robinson, whose enthusiasm and passion for the project is palpable, is the man behind the wizardry that made the whole thing possible.

He admits he was initially "confident, but not certain" it could be pulled off when producer James Sanna first mooted the idea of having an image of Sinatra sing with a live orchestra at Radio City Hall in New York.

But he insists the hard work has been worth it.

I bet he sounds better now than he did when he played in this very room
Keith Robinson

"From crawling around on the floor, to this," Robinson says, sweeping an arm towards the stage where the dancers are rehearsing their moves to Come Fly With Me.

"The first preview night I looked at the crowd of over 1,000 people, and I thought back to the solitude of sitting on the floor [working] until three and four in the morning.

"And then to see it has travelled a third of the way around the world from Los Angeles... I still get a huge thrill out of it. It is amazing."

Robinson is the man who uncovered a long-forgotten treasure trove of film at the Sinatra family archive.

The 35mm films were shot by Sinatra himself in 1957 and 1958, but packed away in his personal archive, where they languished for almost half a century.

Sinatra at the Palladium
Sinatra 'performs' with a troupe of 20 dancers

It was up to Robinson and his skilled team to clean-up the work prints by removing scratches, pencil marking and adhesive tape to fully restore the images, and crisp-up the sound quality.

Sinatra was then "cut out" of the background so his image could be projected and magnified onto moving surfaces on the stage, in a process called "rotoscoping".

This footage has been combined with hundreds of photos, historical footage, home movies, and audio recordings of Sinatra's personal interviews.

Most of Sinatra's biggest hits, including My Way, New York, New York, That's Life and One For My Baby, are included in the show, which also features a troupe of live dancers, singers, and musicians.

The illusion - Robinson hopes - is one of Sinatra performing live on stage.

"What we are doing here is one step from the guy," he said.

"I bet he sounds better now than he did when he performed live in this very room."

'Riveted'

An earlier version of the production was tried out at the Radio City Music Hall in 2003, where it played a two-week sell out season.

It was brought over the Atlantic with a new creative team, headed by director David Leveaux.

Robinson said the preview audiences who had watched the new version of show have responded well.

Image of Sammy Davis Jr
The show is choreographed by Stephen Mear and features archive footage of the era

"One night they were like 'Sinatra! Sinatra!' - it's wild! But in the excitement of the dance and the orchestra you just get into it.

"I have seen this show five times now and I have watched it through and been riveted by it, and it's not as though I haven't heard it before!"

"But what has been created here - with great dance and a great orchestra - is a format that can be appreciated, a format that isn't tagged with the idea that it is old or outdated. It is renewed."

Robinson sees the show as more than just another stage performance.

To him - and to many of the other involved in the production - it is simply "preserving culture".

"The idea that you can participate in bringing out something in this form in this venue for other generations to appreciate, is exciting.

"You don't just want it to rot and disappear and we are so lucky that the Sinatra family were around to take care of the footage and make the effort to do so.

"It's keeping it precious for new generations."



SEE ALSO
Sinatra to make West End 'return'
26 Oct 05 |  Entertainment
'Virtual Sinatra' hits US stage
14 Oct 03 |  Arts & Culture

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