It was December 12, 1915. The place was 415 Monroe Street in Hoboken, New Jersey. Pulled from his mother using forceps, Francis Albert Sinatra was thought to be dead. While the doctor cared for his mother, Natalina “Dolly” Garaventa, his grandmother placed him under cold water and he started to make sound for the very first time.
December 12, 2015 – exactly 100 years later. The place was Mashantucket, Connecticut at Foxwoods, the largest resort casino in North America. Within the resort is the venerable Fox Theater. A number of performers were paying tribute to Frank Sinatra across the country, and I had traveled far to see Robert Davi in his stage show “Davi Sings Sinatra” which he calls a tribute to Frank Sinatra, the Great American Songbook and America herself. Sometimes you have to believe that there are no coincidences. The artist who christened the stage for the very first time on November 17, 1993 was Frank Sinatra, arguably the greatest singing legend in the world. It was a fitting venue.
As I went inside the theatre, I couldn’t help, but feel a sense of reverence in the air. Many people know Robert Davi as an actor with more than 130 screen appearances, but anyone who witnesses his singing, whether in concert or on a recording, would maybe begin to see him as a singer who also acts.
After the comedian had finished opening the show, the spectators’ anticipation was thick. As the lights illuminated the orchestra and the unmistakable notes of “I’ve Got the World on a String” were heard, I was right there with them. From the very first song, you realize that Robert Davi is different. Sinatra would read the lyrics to a song over and over until he had a profound grasp of the story and emotion. It’s obvious that Davi has the same desire to understand the intent of the songwriters. Robert Davi sings in such a way that you hear each and every word of the lyric. He doesn’t just sing the song, he embodies it and wants you to pay attention and fully grasp the poetry and the story.
Davi sang many of the celebrated songs Frank Sinatra recorded and performed, including “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” and encored with the Theme from “New York, New York.” In addition to the music, what made Robert Davi’s concert entertaining was the storytelling and anecdotes. For instance, when Sinatra recorded all of these mentioned songs, they had previously been sung by other artists, respectively Kaye Ballard, Robert Alda, Fred Astaire, and Liza Minnelli. Davi pointed out “They were all covers, but the version Sinatra recorded was so good that you forgot about the original. Imagine if in five years, someone covered Adele’s ‘Hello,’ and you forgot about her version.” Therein lies the distinction between Robert Davi and so many other singers. Robert Davi doesn’t copy Frank Sinatra. He interprets these tunes from the American Songbook in his own way. He wants you to remember Frank Sinatra’s version, but experience it in a way that is unique and new.
Davi’s opera background has served him well. His voice is suited to the most delicate songs like “All the Way,” which emoted a sensitivity and delicacy somewhat at odds with Davi’s tough-guy image. The last song, before the encore, was “My Way,” which he delivered with swagger and confidence. A duet with his daughter Ariana on “Something Stupid” showed the incredible diversity of his ability.
I had heard recordings of Robert Davi, but this was my first experience hearing him sing live. The arrangements are all new, written by his pianist, Randy Waldman, who performed with Davi as well as Nic. tenBroek, who arranged the songs for his debut studio album “On the Road to Romance.” Hearing him sing live gave me a real appreciation for the way he interacted with the crowd. Robert Davi spends almost as much time walking through the audience while singing as he does on the stage.
That’s what I recall the most from his concert, the personal connection he made with everyone. When I interviewed him he said “You’re here for a finite time. You know, it’s like a song. It has its three or four minutes and then it’s gone, so you want to have a lingering connection to whoever you’re with, your friends or whoever you may encounter.” Aside from Frank Sinatra, Jr. there is really no artist as authentic as Robert Davi doing this music in this way. So much of that enchanted night appears so vivid in my memory, as Sinatra once sang, “the song has ended, but the melody lingers on.”
Photos: Bobby BankSemnat de Paul Leslie