At the easternmost portion of Canada lies Newfoundland, which may seem an unlikely place to enjoy a tribute show and dinner to Frank Sinatra, the greatest singer of the 20th century.
Only a few keen historians of Sinatra's career will recall he actually performed in Newfoundland twice before it became a province of Canada in 1949. He performed at Fort Pepperell, and appeared with comedian Phil Silvers at the US Military Base of Harmon Field to entertain the troops in 1945. Harmon, one of the largest air force bases outside the continental United States, was located near the town of Stephenville on the west coast of Newfoundland. It is an 8-hour drive from there to the east coast capital of St. John's, where visitors today can relive the music of Sinatra in the old Masonic Hall.
The show, entitled Sinatra on the Rock, is hosted by Peter Halley as Frank. Joining him in various roles including Elvis and Dean Martin is Justin Trudeau look-a-like Evan Smith (actually he looks better than the PM). The men have keen competition in the vocal department from two ladies: Dana Parsons and Shelley Neville.
Like Stephenville native Evan Smith, the ladies assume a variety of roles during the show. Dana does a fine tribute to Ella Fitzgerald while Judy Garland gets her due from Shelley. They all get in the mix during the “Rat Pack” portion of the show, with Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis making appearances.
Smith, as Dean Martin, does a sensitive rendition of Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime, and belts out Volare with evident delight. Frank's tunes include I Get a Kick Out of You, One for the Road and Don't Get Around Much Anymore. Collectively the four singers have degrees and awards too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say they are all very accomplished and a delight to listen to. Despite the use of props such as hats, a cigarette in one hand and a glass in the other, no one pretends to mimic the voices of the great stars of the past. Rather, they each bring their own experience to offer a tasteful and energetic tribute.
This includes actual banter used in the Rat Pack shows. For example, Dean Martin says he has read that alcohol is bad for the health, “so I quit.” “Quit what?” asks Frank. “Reading!” replies Dean. The only thing tipsy about the show I attended in May 2017 was the piano. When Smith hopped up on it to play the keyboard backwards, it nearly flipped him on the stage. The unplanned malfunction delighted the audience as Halley held it up so the daredevil act could proceed. The show must go on! Frank and Dean would have approved.
Newfoundland is, according to one local I spoke to at the dinner, “the best-kept secret in the world.”
Even though the island looks small on a world map, it is very large indeed when you get there. I drove 3 ½ hours to Bonavista, to see where Canada was founded 520 years ago by Sir John Cabot. That expedition covered just a portion of the south-east corner of the island. So by all means explore Canada's newest and most friendly province. But start with Frank on the Rock, and the delightful gourmet dinner that comes with it. The next performance is May 25, 2017. Phone 709-579-3023 for tickets.
The show is produced by Spirit of Newfoundland, whose artistic director is Peter Halley.
Photos copyright by C. Cunningham, Sun News.