Channeling Ol’ Blue Eyes

This Saturday the sounds of Frank Sinatra will come to life inside our M Pavilion as singer, comic and impressionist Rick Michel pays tribute to the legendary crooner and the American Songbook. With all the original arrangements and 24 of the same musicians that backed up the legendary singer himself, Sinatra Forever promises to be a tribute to one of the greatest singers of all time. We sat down with Rick, who has been performing in Las Vegas since 1981, to talk about the show and Mr. Frank Sinatra himself.

M: You’re careful to call the show a tribute rather than an impersonation. Why is that an important distinction to you?

There are a lot of shows that try and represent many artists of the past and my take is that what made Frank Sinatra was not only his voice but the music. That is really what I am featuring at the M Resort. All of his composers, lyricists, arrangers and the men and women who backed him up were the very best musicians. I want to make this very clear that this is an interpretation of Frank Sinatra. I don’t claim to be him or even come close to filling his shoes. All I want to do is carry on his work and keep his legacy alive.

You were fortunate to meet Mr. Frank Sinatra himself and you actually performed for him. What was that like?

I was weak at the knees at first but then I composed myself and did the best job I could and afterwards he complimented me with his famous catchphrase “You were marvelous, simply marvelous.” That’s all I needed to make my day, year…career!!!

What is your earliest memory of Frank Sinatra?

I had been doing impersonations since I was very small and when I had asked my mother who she wanted me to do an impression of she said Frank Sinatra. My mother had all of Sinatra’s albums and I used to listen to them. One in particular was the album “Song for Swingin’ Lovers”. This was my first time to take a song “You Make Me Feel So Young” and listen to it until I had it down, which took me about a month.

Any Sinatra anecdotes?

In 1987, I had the privilege to watch Mr. Sinatra perform from the wings of the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. It was the best seat in the house and I was in awe of this man as my feet were feeling the vibration of the orchestra on the floorboards. I’ll never forget when he handed me the color 8×10 photo of him and signed it in gold ink – “For Rick, with my very best wishes, Frank Sinatra ‘87”.

Mr. Sinatra had a very recognized way of singing (impeccably clear) and was an expert lyricist. Do you think about these things as your singing and performing?

Yes, I think of these things all the time. I have a method of writing out each song that he recorded and I type the words exactly how he sang them. I have my own little marks I use to show if he goes up on a note, sustains a particular phrase or even uses many notes for one word. The song, “New York, New York” is a perfect example when he uses the word “and”. He actually uses five different notes for that one word! After I write down my little arrows and dashes to let me know how to approach the song, I listen endless times, over and over again until I feel I have the phrasing down. Now when you add the physical emotions to it with body language and facial expressions then you’ve got the essence of Frank Sinatra. Many impressionists try to capture the phrasing but I can instantly tell when they are off because of the intense homework that I put into it. I watch many, many films and footage of concerts to see what he is doing to each song on stage. I never get bored watching him.

For Sinatra Forever, you perform with a 24-piece orchestra. Nowadays performances are often downscaled with entertainers settling for pre-recorded backgrounds.  What’s it like to perform with such an accompaniment?

It is without a doubt a total thrill. I have had the privilege to work with all of these musicians on many different occasions, but to have them all together for one night is unbelievable. More than half of this orchestra played for Frank Sinatra and we have all of his original charts that were put together by my conductor Greg Bosler.

You’ve been called a singer, comic and impressionist. How do your performances combine all three?

When I do my impersonation show I sing as myself, I tell stories and jokes and also do impressions as others. In the Sinatra Forever show I will be incorporating a little Dean Martin and if the audience responds to the comedy of Dean then maybe later in the show I’ll bring out some Rodney Dangerfield or even have The Godfather do some standup.

You can catch Rick Michel performing in Sinatra Forever this Saturday inside the M Pavilion. Doors open at 6:30 pm with the show starting at 7:30 pm. Ticket prices are $19.50 and $29.50 plus LET.