Sammy Cahn wrote the lyrics for 89 songs that Frank Sinatra recorded, many of them more than once, a count of songs higher than any other Sinatra lyricist, of which there are about two dozen performed in Sinatra’s Songwriter. Cahn’s talents are one of the reasons we love Sinatra songs so much; Cahn and the different composers he worked with had already deployed much of the requisite feeling and emotion there on the page, just waiting for “The Singer,” as arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle called him, to apply his unique talents to make the song soar.
As I’ve written about other featured artists on Quality Hill’s bill of fare, Sammy Cahn’s name may not be as familiar as some other lyricists in the hierarchy of American popular song – Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein, Ira Gershwin, George M. Cohan are just a few of the famous names who come to mind – but the titles of his songs are instantly recognizable. “Come Fly With Me,” “My Kind of Town,” “All My Tomorrows,” “Time After Time,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry,” “Love and Marriage,” “Bei Mir Bist Du Shon,” and “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” are just a few.
There is also Cahn’s 26 Academy Award “best song” nominations. Four of these were Oscar winners, all for songs that were “Sinatra songs” – “Three Coins In The Fountain,” “High Hopes,” “Call Me Irresponsible,” and “All The Way.”
Of course, the lyrics are only half of a song, and in creating these classics Cahn teamed up with some of the best popular song melodists of the era, particularly Saul Chaplin, Jule Styne, and Jimmy Van Heusen. Van Heusen and Cahn wrote so many of Sinatra’s hits that they became renowned as “Sinatra’s personal songwriters.”
Kent Barnhart has made terrific choices selecting the two dozen songs, writing the instrumental and vocal arrangements, choosing his musicians, and structuring the song roster to move seamlessly from swinging opener/closer “Come Fly With Me” through the myriad other high and low emotions that are on display during the evening.
Barnhart is also a master at selecting just the right singers, so their voice and personality suit both the many solos and the harmonies of the ensemble numbers.
Lauren Braton is one of my favorite KC performers, and it was nice to see and hear her again in this kind of show… versus her very well-done but completely unrecognizable role in the recent Sweeney Todd at KC Rep. Whether she is singing bouncy tunes like “Please Be Kind,” or “The Tender Trap” with Joseph Carr, or the heartfelt and stunning “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” Ms. Braton is simply lovely onstage.
Lauren Bradshaw has the perfect vocal sound for this show, bringing to mind many of the renowned, big band “girl singers” of the 1940’s like Jo Stafford, Helen Forrest, Peggy Lee, Helen O’Connell and Rosemary Clooney. “All My Tomorrows” is a Sinatra favorite of mine, and Ms. Bradshaw’s version was just great.
Joseph Carr has a very nice tenor voice and did well on “Star” with Mr. Barnhart, “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week”), “Time After Time,” and another torch-song Sinatra favorite of mine, “All The Way.”
Quality Hill Playhouse is a very intimate space, so it is a pleasure to give sincere kudos to Ken Remmert on drums and Ben Tervort on bass for their very tasty and subtle playing.
And as always, Kent Barnhart – artistic director, producer, pianist, emcee, singer, conductor, wit, and one of my VERY favorite KC talents – was entertainingly informative giving both Sammy Cahn’s AND Mr. Sinatra’s backgrounds, as well as the history of the songs throughout the performance.
If you appreciate great songs and great singing, do not miss Sinatra’s Songwriter.
Quality Hill Playhouse
Sinatra’s Songwriter: The Genius of Sammy Cahn
Runs through July 8, 2018 (Reviewed Friday, June 8)
Quality Hill Playhouse
303 W 10th Street, Kansas City, MO 64105
For tickets visit http://www.qualityhillplayhouse.com
Top photo: J. Kent Barnhart, piano. Photo by Larry Levenson