Broadway extrordinaires Billy Stritch and Jim Caruso are taking their show on the road with The Sinatra Century, a cabaret-style tribute to the Chairman of the Board May 6-8 (with a new performance added!) in the Rollins Studio Theatre. Just in time for Sinatra’s 100th birthday. the dynamic duo will be singing some favorites, playing live music, and bringing an all-around unforgettable time to the Long Center.
BroadwayWorld recently sat down with both Stritch and Caruso to talk Liza Minnelli, the Great White Way , and this can’t miss Sinatra Celebration.
What made you decide to create a Sinatra celebration together?
Jim Caruso: I’ve always shied away from theme-driven concerts. Perhaps I’ve never been drawn to one specific topic, performer or songwriter enough to want to delve that deeply. But when Paul Horton of CAMA Artists saw Billy and I sing at Carnegie Hall, he suggested we had a rat-pack-ish energy. He thought it might be fun to bring that vibe into a Sinatra tribute. When Billy and I discussed it in those terms – all the fun, personality and impromptu merry-making Frank, Sammy and Dean had on stage – it seemed like a perfect fit! We’ve been bff’s for over 30 years. We know what makes each other laugh, and are in-synch, musically. Why wouldn’t it be a blast to sing some of the best songs ever written together?
Billy Stritch: I’ve known Frank Sinatra’s catalogue forever, because basically it’s every great song from the golden age of American popular music. However, I’m not sure I would have selected him as a subject for a show until Paul Horton of CAMA Artists suggested it. He’d seen Jim and I in a Margaret Whiting tribute at Carnegie Hall and thought we’d be a good fit for Sinatra. I suppose he responded to our ease and fun together and it’s not too dissimilar to the energy Frank had with members of the Rat Pack. I must say it’s been a nice project to work on!
You guys are all over the place! Together you’re performing at Birdland every Monday, at Bemelmans at The Carlyle Hotel every Sunday, and on the road with Liza Minnelli. Billy performs his own concerts, and is musical director for Liza, Linda Lavin, Marilyn Maye and many more. Jim produces the weekly Broadway at Birdland concert series. When did you have time to put this brand new concert together?
BS: We got our first booking for this upcoming show in Brampton back in January so we’ve had the luxury of being able to put it together in a fairly leisurely fashion. We learned about a third of it by May and then made a big push over the summer to complete it. We’re still putting on the finishing touches.
JC: It’s indeed a busy time, but once we started putting the show together, the incredible Sinatra songbook energized us. Billy’s arrangements energize me. We get hysterical over the stupidest things during rehearsals. We take breaks and drink iced coffee and eat cookies. We google lyrics we don’t understand. (In “Ring A Ding Ding,” the lyric “do a skull” had us stumped. We finally found that it meant to do a double take.) In short, we have so much fun creating that we can’t wait to get together and work. You make time for the things you want to do!
What makes your Sinatra show different?
BS: I think a lot of tribute shows rely on imitations or just the most basic recreations of the subject’s recordings. There’s no sense in trying to imitate Frank Sinatra, but I think I’ve been able to put a few different spins on the arrangements. Of course, there’s no denying that Jim and I have a great chemistry together and that alone will make our show different and fun. Also, I was fortunate to meet Frank and Barbara Sinatra on a number of occasions and was even their houseguest on two trips to Palm Springs (courtesy of Liza Minnelli, whom he adored) – so I’ll tell a bit about that in the show.
JC: Apart from the fact that Billy and I have a ball working together, I think the audience will sense our passion for the songs, and for the kind of performer Sinatra was. He was musical, he was glib, and he loved singing with his friends. And thanks to some of our fancy friends, we have insider information and personal stories nobody else has. To find a way into “New York, New York,” one of the most performed songs of all time, was tricky. But I think we’ve done it, thanks to our friend and the song’s composer, John Kander.
Do you have a favorite Sinatra song to perform?
JC: We do a medley of his best saloon songs; “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “One For My Baby,” and “Angel Eyes.” My friends all know that I love singing upbeat, swinging tunes, but these three are absolute killer ballads. They take me right into a darkened bar filled with cigarette smoke, Scotch and regret.
BS: There are so many to choose from but the one I’m really enjoying now is “All The Way” by the Jimmy Van Heusen and the great Sammy Cahn (who I also knew).
What Sinatra song title best describes your life?
BS: “The Song’s Gotta Come From The Heart” – a song Frank sang with Jimmy Durante very early on in a movie called “It Happened In Brooklyn.” It’s featured in our Gigantic Sinatra Movie Medley and it’s also by the greatSammy Cahn. The title certainly sums up how I feel about performing in general.
JC: I’d like to say “Strangers In The Night” or “I Cover the Waterfront,” but I’ll go with “Young At Heart.”
Read the full interview here.