Frank and Sammy: the case of the missing spark

When Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra brought their ``1988 Frank-Dean-Sammy Together Again National Concert Tour'' to New York, it was without Dean Martin, who dropped out on account of illness. It's hard to say if Martin was the missing spark, but except for Sammy Davis's solo half of the show, there weren't too many fireworks the night I saw their performance here at Radio City Music Hall. Davis put in an energetic, masterfully suave performance. Dressed in a short gray polka-dotted tux jacket and ascot tie, and bedecked in jewels, he was the epitome of veteran show-biz class - totally comfortable on stage, loving what he was doing. His voice was intact, and his diction as impeccable as ever (a rarity these days). He shone on numbers like ``Satin Doll,'' which opened with his voice in a duet with just the bass fiddle; and a cooking, swinging ``Birth of the Blues.'' But best of all was his signature tune, ``Mr. Bojangles,'' musical tale of the great tap dancer. It was poignant but never maudlin - starting out conversationally, building up to a climax, and then fading out with a whistle.

But when Frank Sinatra took the stage, things ground to a halt. All the right elements were there - the grand vocal style, the right sense of swing, the casual side comments - but it was as if he were merely going through the motions. And he was cold, almost glacial at times. Then, instead of perking up the audience with some of his really great standards, he sang the requisite ``New York, New York'' and ``Mack the Knife,'' and so on, and then took up a large part of his solo spot with ``Soliloquy,'' from ``Carousel,'' about a father imagining what his unborn son or daughter will be like. Although the song made sense in its day in the context of ``Carousel,'' today, especially as a solo piece in a concert like this, it seems like a lot of dated macho silliness.

When Davis and Sinatra finally came out on stage together, it was only Davis's cheery presence that pulled together a rather sloppy medley from ``Guys and Dolls,'' where Sinatra spent much of the time looking disgruntled.

Much credit should go to musical director Morty Stevens and his band, which did an excellent job with the arrangements. The tour continues in Los Angeles in July and starts up again in other cities in September.

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