By Stanford Friedman
What do Frank Sinatra and Arthur Miller have in common? Well, Marilyn Monroe for one thing, but also the fact that they were both born 100 years ago, a mere two months and 20 miles apart. The city has been celebrating Miller’s centennial in high style, welcoming inventive productions of A View From the Bridge and Incident at Vichy, and even a Yiddish production of Death of a Salesman. Now, with Sinatra’s birthday of December 12 on the near horizon, it is his turn for tribute. Lacking the creative sharp edges of the Miller offerings, Steve Tyrell’s holiday gig at Café Carlyle instead offers a warm and sentimental retrospective of some of Very Ol’ Blue Eyes’ greatest hits.
If Miller was his generation’s definitive chronicler of the family man in crisis, Sinatra was surely its balladeer of the forlorn lover (Not for nothing that Sinatra nuzzled with Marilyn, but Miller married her.). Tyrell’s 50 minute set bares this out in spades with classics like I’ve Got You Under My Skin, (Love Is) The Tender Trap, and The Way You Look Tonight. But I approached the evening with some trepidation. Having taken in Tyrell’s 2014 Carlyle appearance, I recalled that the Sinatra numbers with which he began the show (before switching to hits of the 60’s) were the weakest segment of that outing. Now I see that Tyrell just needs some time to warm up. His first couple of songs of this opening night performance (All of Me and I Get a Kick Out Of You) were rushed and unremarkable, but his fourth number, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, was the highlight of the evening, sung with a suddenly golden tone and a hot syncopation playing across Lorenz Hart’s classically wacky lyrics, “I’m wild again/Beguiled again/A simpering, whimpering child again.” David Mann brought this, and several other numbers, to a higher plane with outstanding saxophone solos. Similarly, Quinn Johnson’s moody piano enhanced Tyrell’s fine interpretation of One for My Baby (and One for the Road), transporting us right out of the energized Carlyle and into a sad jukebox joint at a “quarter to three.”
The most unusual thing about Tyrell, who has made a career out of singing Sinatra, is that he is not at all like him on stage. Where Sinatra’s voice was velvet, Tyrell is more corduroy, a tad gruff and with a slight but definite hint of a Texas accent. Where Sinatra had an air of hit man danger, Tyrell is good ole boy friendly, shaking hands of audience members and doling out quaint stories between songs. Where Sinatra’s craftsmanship extended to spontaneous scooby-dooby-doing, Tyrell sings it straight and uncomplicated, knowing and acknowledging his limits and his luck, with nary a ring a ding ding in sight. He is also a little obsessed with statistics, prefacing each song with the year it was written, providing fun facts such as that Sinatra recorded some 87 songs by Sammy Cahn, and pointing out other important, if non-centennial, milestones: This is his 11th annual appearance at the Carlyle, as well as the Café’s 60th anniversary season.
Steve Tyrell performs through Jan. 2 at Café Carlyle.
Tuesday – Saturday at 8:45pm with a Saturday late show at 10:45pm. Reservations: 212.744.1600 or www.ticketweb.com. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, 35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue, thecarlyle.com.