Todd Murray & Stacy Sullivan: The Musical Romance of Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee

“Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee had two of the longest careers in show business and one of the world’s most enduring friendships,” begins Todd Murray introducing this copacetic show. Duets of “I’m Glad There is You”(Jimmy Dorsey/Paul Maderia) and “I Love Being Here with You” (Peggy Lee/Bill Schluger) showcase the palpable affection and appreciation between the two performers, reflecting that of their subjects.

“Peggy Lee fell in love with Frank before they met. She’d take the bus across town to the only local jukebox and listen to the vocalist,” Sullivan tells us. Just enough illuminating narration slips in between songs. Murray croons Sinatra’s hit, “This Love of Mine” (Frank Sinatra/Sol Parker/Hank Sanicola) as if confiding. Sullivan comes in, fingers snapping, hips subtly rhythmic as the tune morphs into Lee’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?” (Kansas Joe McCoy). This then is where the artists were in parallel time.

Lee signed with Benny Goodman in 1941. Sinatra was the special guest. It was kismet. When she got ill, he went out to buy her soup and tea. Perhaps he saw a kindred soul, perhaps her feminine vulnerability drew him. Both came from abusive homes. Both had distinctive sounds for which they insisted on recording control. Both were perfectionists and often deemed difficult because of it. While Lee often imbued her material with humor, Sinatra did not. Both could evoke intimacy, though Lee perhaps more readily.

A captivating arrangement of “Begin the Beguine” (Cole Porter) and “The Way You Look Tonight” (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields) ends with the couple holding hands. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” (George and Ira Gershwin) is performed side by side on stools with an invisible ribbon around the pair. Watching Sinatra and Lee one might’ve concluded they were having an affair – not the case.

We hear about the night Sinatra got so much applause Tommy Dorsey asked him to do another number for which neither he nor the band were prepared. “That was the night the 24 year-old became Frank Sinatra,” Murray remarks. One wants to wrap oneself in his version of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach) while Sullivan’s rendition of “Ridin’ High”(Cole Porter) elicits head bobbing and finger snapping.

The show swings back and forth with hits by each vocalist, also singing duets. This leads to a too long medley of overlapping songs curiously depicted in a way that shows the vocalists competitively annoyed with each other’s success. At one point Sullivan literally leaves the stage apparently miffed. (She’s a good actress.) Direction both contradicts the story and distracts from an otherwise sophisticated show.

The Academy Award winning “High Hopes” (James Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn) – we sing the chorus – became a campaign song for Jack Kennedy who turned his back on Sinatra without a word because of Bobby Kennedy’s mob investigations. The performer was devastated. Murray sings both versions bringing back an era in CinemaScope.

Sullivan, who’s been touring the country with successful Peggy Lee shows, relates a story of eschewing the iconic “Fever” until audience demand called for its inclusion. Her sultry, breathy rendition (not imitation) is just right, understated and hot with flared nostrils and a jerked back head on the word itself. The song ends with a finger snap and inhaling through her teeth. Passion.

Murray talks about Sinatra’s generosity. The icon sent a jet for his friend when she was ill in New Orleans and during a slump in her career conducted an album of her singing called The Man I Love with Nelson Riddle arrangements. It was an extravagant, one time gesture.

“One For My Baby” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) and “Is That All There Is?” (Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller) are performed with complicity and resignation, the latter an odd mood to inject into two immensely successful careers without stipulating why. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” follows replete with a brief dance turn. THIS manifests their feelings.

Both performers are terrific, their concept intriguing and entertaining. The show needs a little pruning. My opinion.

Photos courtesy of the artists

You can catch The Musical Romance of Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee at Weill Concert Hall, May 22, 2023.

Todd Murray & Stacy Sullivan: The Musical Romance of Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee
Directed by Savannah Brown
Yasuhiko Fukuoka-MD/piano
Sean Murray-bass

October 31, 2022
Birdland Theater 
315 West 44th Street

About Alix Cohen (1429 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.