When Timothy O’Keefe was in high school in Los Angeles, he found himself cast as the lead in a musical production mounted by the school’s drama club. “There was zero theatrical experience in my family,” O’Keefe recalls of his reluctance to accept the part — but in such serendipitous choices, careers are often made.
Along with his long-running roles playing Alan Sewell on The Young and the Restless and Doctor Erickson on Days of Our Lives, O’Keefe has always sung, and to such effect that he’s been compared in the press to show-tune/jazz maestro Tony Bennett. He’s bringing both his talents to bear in his one-man show Remembering Frank Sinatra: The Capitol Years, opening this month. “I was drawn to Sinatra’s kind of singing at an early age,” O’Keefe says. “While everyone was listening to the Beatles, I was listening to Frank, Robert Goulet, Andy Williams.”
A long-gestating project for O’Keefe, Remembering Frank Sinatra includes two-dozen selections from the Great American Songbook that became Sinatra trademarks, especially during the height of his second wave of popularity, the mid-’50s to the early ’60s: the years he recorded for Capitol. O’Keefe intersperses the songs with stories, remembrances, and anecdotes about The Chairman of the Board (aka Ol’ Blue Eyes and The Voice), whom he briefly met while working as the head page at NBC for The Dean Martin Show.
“Frank always appeared on Martin’s Christmas show, so that’s how I got to work with him,” explains O’Keefe.
Despite his recurring roles in soap operas and appearances in such TV series as Battlestar Galactica, Fantasy Island, and CHiPs, among many others, O’Keefe reveals that his first love was always singing. “This show is a way for me to stay in the game,” he says. There are plans to take the show on tour after its Asheville dates, and, O’Keefe muses, there’s always the lure of Broadway.
Remembering Frank Sinatra is neither an impersonator show nor an on-stage hagiography of the singer. Rather, it explores Sinatra’s profound influence on American music and culture during the middle years of the last century — a mark still audible in the music of Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Bublé, contemporary artists who also enjoy Sinatra’s early heartthrob status.
O’Keefe’s performance in song and monologue, backed by the 17-piece Russ Wilson and His Orchestra, covers not only Sinatra’s meteoric rise but his fall from grace after his often scandalous public behavior and his tempestuous relationships with women, most famously with Ava Gardner. Then came an unexpectedly effective performance in From Here to Eternity and a return to the recording studio under the guidance of Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins, who gave the Sinatra style a new, more sophisticated sheen.
“There were bouts of depression along the way,” O’Keefe notes, “along with what we would probably today call bipolar disorder. We talk about the negatives, too, in the show, the rise and fall, how Sinatra became a legend.”
The show’s come together despite a heavy schedule as an acting coach and lecturer that takes O’Keefe away for weeks on end from Hendersonville, where he and his wife settled nine years ago after visiting the area and falling in love with the quality of life. “One of the things that drew us here was the area’s very lively arts environment,” he says. “Every community should have access to the arts. I was thrilled to discover the depth of talent in this relatively small community, especially in theater. Everyone should take a shot at acting at least once in their lives. It’s the best personal therapy I know.”
O’Keefe is using his show as a learning tool for a group of local college and high-school students, to introduce them to a style of musical performance by now several generations away from its roots. A portion of ticket proceeds will benefit the Henderson County nonprofit Feed the Kids Coalition.
“That’s why we chose to do the show here first,” O’Keefe says. “It’s a way to give back in a meaningful way and keep this musical tradition going for another generation.”