HIS WAY: A TRIBUTE TO THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC, at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. This tony new theater, poised improbably beside a cement factory, features a handsome, intimate three-quarter thrust stage with bright acoustics and perfect sight lines, and it’s been given a name that makes it sound like a venerable Chicago institution. But I’m still worried–and not just because the clashing design disasters in the hotel-esque lobby are enough to make any tasteful theater queen run for his life. Inaugurating a theater with a commercial chestnut like Ron Hawking’s His Way, the Sinatra tribute that had an extended run at the Mercury Theater a couple years ago, suggests that progressive programming won’t be this place’s hallmark. And since the show probably drained its core audience then, it’s hardly surprising the place was only a third full on a recent Friday night.
Hawking and musical director Bill Rogers have scaled back their production a bit, reducing the original 14-piece band to an 8-piece combo, but they’ve retained all two hours’ worth of Sinatra’s most familiar tunes from the 1950s and ’60s. Hawking is a likable performer with a strong instrument and a refreshing penchant for self-deprecation, but he approaches almost every song with the same good-natured ease, skating across the surface of poignant ballads and swinging novelty numbers alike. Unlike his idol, Hawking rarely tells the human stories behind the lyrics.