Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Acclaimed play that delves into Frank Sinatra’s dark side is coming to the UAE

British actor Richard Shelton recorded with Sinatra’s bandmates, visited his former home and even snapped up one of his tuxedos to truly tell the story of the music legend

British actor Richard Shelton has been impersonating Sinatra for the past 15 years. Warehouse Four
British actor Richard Shelton has been impersonating Sinatra for the past 15 years. Warehouse Four

His blue eyes twinkle as he croons his way through New York, New York, his trilby perching jauntily on his slick-backed hair. It’s followed by a soulful rendition of I’ve Got You Under My Skin, fingers snapping as the crowd goes wild for America’s biggest heart-throb. Next thing we know, it’s 2am, and an angry Frank Sinatra rants and raves alone in his bedroom, hating everyone and everything in the world.

It’s an ugly contrast, but as far as stage biographies go, this one is award-winning, and if there’s anyone to tell the tale of the Rat Pack, it’s British actor Richard Shelton – and he’s doing it his way.

Shelton, 58, has dedicated the past 15 years to impersonating his hero, and now he’s bringing his award-winning one-man theatre production to Warehouse Four in Dubai.

Sinatra Raw, which will be performed next Tuesday at the independent theatre, tells the darker side of Sinatra’s story after the bright lights of stardom began to fade.

To make himself the best man to bring the story of Ol’ Blue Eyes back to life, Shelton recorded with Sinatra’s bandmates, visited his former home and even snapped up one of his tuxedos to truly fit the part.

Popular American singer Frank Sinatra (1915 - 1998) performs as part of a benefit concert at the Keil Opera House in St. Louis, Missouri, June 20, 1965. The concert was organized as a benefit for the Dismas House, one of the first halfway houses for established for ex-convicts in the US. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
American singer Frank Sinatra performing in 1965. Getty

“I’ve had the most fascinating synchronicities with Sinatra, being one of the last people inside his last home, from where they took him when he went to die, as it was being demolished – I mean literally one of the last people inside,” Shelton tells The National.

The superfan, who lives in Los Angeles, discovered he shares the exact proportions of his idol, a handy coincidence, considering he has found one of Sinatra’s old suits.

“His tuxedo walked into my life as a result of recording at Capital Studios in LA with his bandmates, and it fits like a glove,” Shelton beams. “There are so many synchronicities that it’s sort of like it’s meant to be, this relationship.”

The show, which Shelton also wrote and produced, has had massive success in other parts of the world.

As well as an Offie (Off-West End Awards) nomination for Best Male Performance, a sold-out critically acclaimed West End season and a sell-out run at the 2018 and 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Shelton can also count the rich and famous among his fans.

“Two things stand out for me,” Shelton says. “Playing at Windsor Castle for Prince Charles was a strange experience. It’s not every day you get called to do that. It was surreal – like going into the world of Harry Potter.

“You don’t just turn up and sing, you’re instructed of where to go and what to say and all the rest of it.

“The second was playing for Elton John at the White Tie and Tiaras Ball,” he says. “And that was just absolutely bonkers because every famous person in the world was there.

Everybody from Fergie, the Duchess of York, to Ivana Trump to actresses, actors, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones – it was just amazing. It was absolutely great.

“Nobody could outflash each other because each person was as flashy as the next. It was like the living pages of Hello! magazine.”

Now, Shelton is thrilled to be bringing his show to the UAE, having enjoyed a long history with the Middle East.

“I first visited Dubai 32 years ago when I did one of the first shows at Madinat Theatre. It literally was low-level buildings and the Gold Souq and not much else – high-rises didn’t exist there,” he says.

Despite the colossal success of his career and Sinatra Raw, for Shelton, being Frank is more than merely a tribute act. His obsession with the showman started when he was only 14 years old, when he first listened to Sinatra’s My Way on cassette.

“My father was an amateur drummer and I picked up his drumstick one day and started singing along to it and just thinking ‘I simply get this – my voice just fits and I get the lyrics, I get the meaning’. It was like it was meant to be,” he says. But

Shelton insists that there is more than merely being a huge fan to his performances.

He credits the star, one of the 20th century’s most influential singers, who sold 150 million records, as spurring on his own talents.

“He inspires me to be a better artist,” Shelton says. “The bar was so high with Frank Sinatra. We’re talking about one of the biggest showbusiness icons who ever lived, so I can never ever rest on my laurels – and I like that. I like the challenge.”

Regrets? We’ve had a few – make sure missing this show isn’t one of them.

Sinatra Raw is on Tuesday, November 5, at 8pm at Warehouse Four, Al Quoz, Dubai. Tickets are Dh150. Visit warehousefour.com or email bookings@warehousefour.com

Updated: October 29, 2019 07:40 PM

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