Bob Anderson Channels the Chairman in Sinatra Extravaganza

Bob Anderson as Frank Sinatra.
Bob Anderson as Frank Sinatra. Photo by Ed Foster/Courtesy of Bob Anderson
Under normal circumstances, assuming the identity of another person is a punishable crime. But for Bob Anderson, transforming himself into Frank Sinatra – physically, vocally, and facially – it’s all in an evening’s work.

As video evidence attests, Anderson’s “Frank Sinatra” is scarily accurate. He’ll transport Houston audiences to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, circa 1970, when Frank. The Man. The Music. comes to the Woodlands Pavilion (with a 31-piece orchestra in tow) on April 6. Interestingly, the real Frank Sinatra was the first national act to ever play the Pavilion back on April 28, 1990.

Bob Anderson has sung with both his own voice and as an impressionist for decades. But here was never a question as to which performer he could base an entire 90-minute show on.

click to enlarge Anderson will often take a few swigs of his Jack Daniel's over ice during the "saloon songs" segment. - PHOTO BY ED FOSTER/COURTESY OF BOB ANDERSON
Anderson will often take a few swigs of his Jack Daniel's over ice during the "saloon songs" segment.
Photo by Ed Foster/Courtesy of Bob Anderson
“A lot of the great artists I could do just aren’t relevant in today’s world. But Frank Sinatra is. He’s the only one who transcends every generation, and he’s as popular today as he ever was,” Anderson says from his home in Savannah, Georgia. “If you are on a plane or in a restaurant, there’s not one person who doesn't know who he is. He was just that good. The music, the persona, and the movies.”

To create the show (the script for which he also wrote), Anderson had to really buckle down and study the Chairman of the Board. So for two hours a day, five days a week, he would rise early and go to a special room in his house while he faced walls covered with mirrors and a large TV screen.

Then, he’d put on a tuxedo, play videos of Sinatra, and sing and move like him, down to the distinctive head tilt. He kept this schedule for a solid year.

“I did that because I respected him so much. I wasn’t going to be a wannabe guy, put a hat on sideways and go on YouTube and say ‘Look! I'm Frank Sinatra!’’ Anderson says. Though capturing the voice of The Voice wasn’t easy.

“He’s harder to do than, say, Andy Williams or Johnny Mathis or Tony Bennett, because Frank’s voice had nothing to grab on to. [Sonically and pitch wise], he’s right down the middle. You’ve got to place it in the back of your throat…I studied him a ridiculously long time”

It’s not just enough to sound and move like Frank Sinatra. Before each performance, Anderson spends two hours in a makeup chair to transform his face into Frank’s, with a process created by the Academy Award-winning Kazu Tsuji, who helped turn Brad Pitt into Benjamin Button and Jim Carrey into the Grinch. The faux Sinatra toupee alone costs $8,000. And Anderson’s tuxedos have to be specially made to match what Frank wore.

But after a number of years of doing the show in Las Vegas and now taking it on the road and possibly to Broadway, Anderson says he’s relaxed, performing as Frank naturally rather than with an actor’s train of thought. He’ll even have a glass of Jack Daniel’s whisky with water over ice (the real Sinatra’s drink of choice) on the piano during shows, taking swigs out of it as the mood hits him. And he may even take requests, as he did recently when an audience member yelled “Frank! Do ‘Send in the Clowns!’”

Musically, Anderson employs the same care to detail that his inspiration did, and the show uses Frank’s own arrangements which Sinatra gave to his bandleader and musical director of many years, Vincent Falcone. In turn, Falcone worked with Anderson for more than a decade before passing in 2017, though the orchestra that bears his name still plays the show.

“Anybody can put notes on a page, but these arrangements had the dynamics written as well, how the music should sound,” Anderson explains. “And that helps the conductor know what the arranger had in mind. Sinatra had the greatest arrangers, guys like Nelson Riddle, Don Costa, and Gordon Jenkins. And Sinatra was very meticulous when he wanted something to sound a certain way. He wanted to make sure what had been written was implemented properly.”

Thus, audiences at Frank. The Man. The Music. can expect to hear both Sinatra’s hits and deeper cuts including “Luck Be a Lady,” “My Kind of Town,” “Come Fly with Me,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “For Once in My Life,” “Angel Eyes,” “That’s Life,” “It Was a Very Good Year,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Summer Wind,” “One For My Baby (And One More for the Road),” “Night and Day,” and more.

click to enlarge The 31-piece Vincent Falcone Orchestra uses Frank Sinatra's own personal arrangements of songs in the show. - PHOTO BY ED FOSTER/COURTESY OF BOB ANDERSON
The 31-piece Vincent Falcone Orchestra uses Frank Sinatra's own personal arrangements of songs in the show.
Photo by Ed Foster/Courtesy of Bob Anderson
Ironically, Bob Anderson’s entry into show business came with the help of a Sinatra – but not the one you might think. In a tale that sounds fantastical, in 1973 the then 22-year-old Vietnam veteran took a car trip west on Route 66 to Las Vegas to clear his head. Finding himself in front of the Sahara Hotel & Casino, he went in for drink – clad in a T-shirt and cut-off jeans.

At the bar, he struck up a conversation with entertainment journalist Mark Tan, who then invited him to see a rehearsal by Nancy Sinatra as she was preparing for her show that evening. Her opening act, the Everly Brothers, got into an argument and stormed off stage.

Panicked, Sinatra contacted a number of well-known performers, but none could take the slot that evening. Tan found out that Anderson was a singer, and suggested he approach the stage and audition. An hour later, Anderson and Sinatra were in a limousine on the way to a tuxedo shop to purchase him clothes for the show. The next morning, Anderson’s name went up on the Sahara marquee. 

click to enlarge Bob Anderson with Nancy Sinatra, who helped his entry into show business in a fluke billing. - PHOTO BY MARK TAN/COURTESY OF BOB ANDERSON
Bob Anderson with Nancy Sinatra, who helped his entry into show business in a fluke billing.
Photo by Mark Tan/Courtesy of Bob Anderson
Doors began to open up for Anderson left and right. But in addition to his own voice, audiences discovered his innate gift for vocal mimicry. Soon, he was doing singing impressions of everyone from Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Johnny Mathis to Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Wayne Newton, and Robert Goulet.

And that led to more than 200 TV appearances (including a nearly 15-minute tour de force on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”) and his own stage show that lasted for more than three years on the Las Vegas Strip.

Anderson actually met Frank Sinatra only once. It was when he was playing his show at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas in 1984. Owner Steve Wynn had given Anderson a heads up that Sinatra was staying in the hotel for four nights and might just drop by to catch his show.

For the first three nights, there was no sign of Ol’ Blue Eyes. And then on fourth, as Anderson was sitting at the bar in the 60-seat showroom prior to his performance, he looked up and saw Dean Martin come in the room. And then Sarah Vaughan. And then Johnny Mathis. And then Diana Ross. And then, finally, Frank Sinatra himself.

“Frank comes up behind me, grabs my shoulder and squeezes it and says ‘You know kid, I wouldn’t have missed this!’” Anderson says. “And I’m nervous as could be. They’re all sitting three feet from me and the stage is only eight inches high!”

Anderson sang some songs in his own voice, then began doing impressions. As “Sammy Davis Jr.,” he even had a back and forth dialogue in character with Dean Martin, kicking Martin’s feet off the stage as Sammy declared it was “his show” as Frank and Co. guffawed. Still, he thought – did he have the nerve to do Frank Sinatra…in front of Frank Sinatra? He did.

“I started singing ‘All the Way’ as Frank, and they all applauded immediately,” Anderson recounts – still in awe more than three decades later. “And then Frank Sinatra got up and said to everyone in the room ‘That kid’s got a hell of a show, doesn’t he?’”

Frank. The Man. The Music. Starring Bob Anderson is at 8 p.m. on April 6 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbin Drive. For information, call 281-364-3010 or visit $20-$300.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero