The rest of the heavily scripted evening lacks that connection between honoree and performer; far too many of the actors and performers attempt to come off as friends of Sinatra, though it’s doubtful few have done more than shake his hand.
Most don’t even accord Sinatra an appropriate level of respect — save for Danny Aiello and Chazz Palminteri — and beyond some nicely assembled montages, the show’s success is dependent on the perfs.
It starts well enough with Springsteen, Natalie Cole and Ray Charles, hits a lull from Angela Lansbury to Luis Miguel, and ends with a bag so mixed that Don Rickles comes off as affectionate and funny.
In greatest evidence is the lack of talent capable of even approximating Sinatra’s gifts. Coming closest, oddly enough, is U2’s Bono singing his unreleased “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad” with a string section in a London studio. Bono is superb in his update of a saloon singer, appropriately remorseful with no sense of the over-the-top nature of his rock recordings.
Charles does a superb job with “Ol’ Man River,” taking Sinatra to task for the “whiteness” of his production number.
Hootie & the Blowfish singer Darius Rucker is another find, his voice cocksure and sinewy as he belts “The Lady Is a Tramp.” Bob Dylan, the subject of a similar tribute at Madison Square Garden two years ago, is his iconoclastic self as he leads his acoustic band anda string section through the original “Restless Farewell.”
The acts that fall flattest attempt to cover songs Sinatra made famous. Paula Abdul’s “Luck Be a Lady” is such a low point she’s reduced to less than a minute of screen time and the camera pulls back an inordinate distance, quite possibly so no one can tell she’s lip-synching.
Montages are expertly done, capturing the excitement of the young, skinny singer from Hoboken, the tough guy in the movies and, best of all, snippets of his work with the greats he has been associated with in film, song and stage.
Shots between acts focus on Sinatra and wife Barbara seated ringside (and his emotions range from amused to bewildered to touched) as well as a slew of ABC TV stars.
Sinatra performs only one line, the closing of “New York, New York,” and it’s evident, as Gregory Peck says earlier, “winner and still heavyweight champion — you are still the man.” Technically, the show doesn’t go beyond the standard variety revue, but for an emcee-less show, it maintains a solid pace.