Sinatra, London Palladium, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Frank Sinatra staged so many comebacks during his long career that it would clearly take more than death to prevent him making yet another. This posthumous show is a cross between a concert, a chronological browse through the archives, and a glutinous "Sinatra was the 20th century" love-in, and has just opened at his old haunt, the London Palladium.

There is something decidedly rum about a theatrical event where everything - the 24-piece orchestra, the 20-strong dancing troupe - is live, apart from the star. The hype has suggested that the multi-media production, directed by David Leveaux, would induce the belief that the singer has somehow been conjured out of the grave. For the bulk of the proceedings, though, you're all too aware that he's been technologically inserted.

Computer wizardry has extracted Sinatra from recently rediscovered 35mm movies shot in the late Fifties. These magnified, black-and-white images are flashed onto screens that glide across the stage, change size and multiply. But though he's in great voice on the footage, he seems sealed off in a weird void, because the original backgrounds and orchestrations have been removed. This unfortunately emphasises the impossibility of any real chemistry between Sinatra and the rest of the £5m production. Significantly, some of the show's more rousing stretches use infectious film of live performances.

On the few occasions when all the elements gel, the show is elating. Take "That's Life". Sinatra, viewed on three screens, punches out the song with a wonderfully wry and syncopated swagger and there's a fantastic stealth and brassy bravura in the accompaniment by Gareth Valentine's band. Downstage, the cast, choreographed by Stephen Mear, form a swaying, finger-clicking line of back-up singers, soaring vocally and freaking kookily as the number hots up. It's a simple, unfussy and remarkably effective sequence.

More often, though, instead of augmenting the experience, the flesh-and-blood folk are a distraction. Rather than allow us to focus undisturbed on Sinatra's sublimely bruised and rueful rendition of "One For My Baby", the production irritatingly introduces to the lonely, late night bar a blonde floozie, angling to be picked up and seen both on stage and film.

The tone of the life-and-times survey is predominantly hagiographic (mention of alleged Mafia connections notwithstanding). There are some diverting instances of unconscious, revealing humour, as when Sinatra talks straight-faced of "the only time I had any physical contact with a newspaperman, who is now dead..." But it's hard to see the point of this bizarre, faintly ghoulish exercise.

To 7 October (0870 145 1163)

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