OTTUMWA — Tony Sands could have made it a bit easier on himself, but it wouldn’t have been right. You see, Sands was always a fan of Frank Sinatra, and always wanted to put together a show that would allow people to get a sense of Sinatra’s remarkable career.
Doing so was a challenge. How do you encompass the life of an American icon? Not just a celebrity, but someone who was continuously in the spotlight for a half-century, whose shows in Las Vegas made the city, well, Vegas. And that’s before you get to the songs.
Sands was quick to say the show, called “It Was a Very Good Year,” isn’t a jukebox concert. The audience hears Sinatra’s music, sure, but that’s not the only point. “It’s actually a Frank Sinatra musical, a one-man musical,” he said.
Like many fans, Sands’ introduction to Sinatra came through his parents. He remembers hearing the music at home, sometimes singing along. But it was one particular moment that changed his life. He heard the song differently, and something clicked.
“He was painting a picture,” Sands said. “I understood what he was singing about. Sinatra knew how to put a song across to his audience.”
The show’s six parts track Sinatra’s career from being one of the first teen idols to his time at the top of show business. That evolution was key, Sands said. If Sinatra had tried to be the same guy in the 1940s that he was earlier as a big band singer, pop culture would have left him behind. Instead, Sinatra changed with it.
“The others faded out. Sinatra was still there recording,” said Sands. “Sinatra always had his following with him. He always had that backing; he always had that base.”
Sinatra fans evolve, too. Many, perhaps most, go through the same stages Sands did. You heard Sinatra when you were young. But there came a point where Sinatra’s music wasn’t what everyone else was listening to. It wasn’t cool to be a fan anymore. So the music went under the surface, something you still enjoyed but wouldn’t admit to.
But there comes a point in life where fans take a tip from Sinatra and say enough. This is what I want to listen to, who cares whether anyone else does. For Sands, that decision created a career.
“I wanted to put a show together that is not a guy coming out and doing the music. I wanted to do the story,” he said. “We try to put some history on it. This show is a different kind of show.”
Sands said it’s too hard to pick a favorite song. But he admits to a soft spot for “Put Your Dreams Away.” It’s how Sinatra ended his radio shows.
“It Was a Very Good Year” will be at Bridge View Center on April 19. Tickets are available at bridgeviewcenter.com.