Ron Hawking does Frank 'His Way'
Singer-actor Ron Hawking wants to make one thing perfectly clear: He is not a Frank Sinatra impersonator. Not that the seasoned voice actor and commercial radio announcer couldn't impersonate the Chairman of the Board, if he set his mind to it. Hawking, after all, is renowned for his dead-on impressions of such Rat Pack celebrities as Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and others, all of whom make appearances--via Hawking's impressionistic talents--in his long-running stage show, His Way. The show, a major tourist draw in Hawking's hometown of Chicago for seven years, lands for a four-night run at Yountville's beautifully refurbished arts venue, the opulent, $20-million-face-lifted Lincoln Theater.
It will be the first time Hawking has done the show in Northern California since the summer of 1999, when His Way played for three months at San Francisco's Theater on the Square. With a tight 12-piece band in tow, Hawking sings classic tunes and plays around with the Sinatra legend by imagining scenes featuring some of the late singer's Rat Pack associates and other famous folk.
But he does not--repeat: does not--impersonate Frank Sinatra.
"I tell people at the beginning of every show," says Hawking, calling from Chicago, "'I don't want to be Frank Sinatra, and I don't want to pretend I'm Frank Sinatra.' Because, for one thing, I look nothing like Frank Sinatra, and it would be embarrassing to me and to Frank's memory for me to try and pass myself off that way. I want to honor Frank Sinatra, so I sing my tribute to him in my own voice. Still, I get people asking me all the time about my show--those who haven't seen it ask me--and they all think it's a Frank Sinatra impersonation show. It's a lot more than that, and it's better than that. People find out about Frank Sinatra, but they also find out about Ron Hawking. It's a personal show. It's a very upbeat, inspirational show. At least, that's what people keep telling me."
Hawking is one of those bread-and-butter show people who've made successful careers for themselves while remaining essentially anonymous to the majority of us. His voice, whether speaking, singing or impersonating, has been a part of literally thousands of commercials since the 1970s, including spots for Snuggle dryer softener, Schlitz beer, StarKist tuna, Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats, Progresso soups and McDonald's. In 1998, he wrote the novelty song "Go Go Sammy Sosa," which enjoyed quite a bit of national airplay on its way to becoming a staple on Cubs fans' CD players. After a nerve-shattering bout with cancer several years ago, Hawking began thinking about how he wanted to be remembered, and then began wondering how some of the icons of his youth, from Gene Kelly to Sinatra, would end up being remembered. One thing led to another, and he eventually came up with the idea of doing the Frank Sinatra tribute show.
Aside from the fact that he'd always liked Sinatra's music and mystique, Hawking also realized that he'd always been able to sing Sinatra songs.
"Sinatra has always been a good fit for my voice," he laughs. "I knew when I first considered doing this show that I wasn't just going to hit a single; I was going to hit a home run. That was my feeling."
He seems to have it right. When he persuaded NBC Studios in Chicago to convert an unused studio into a theater and to book His Way as its opening act, the show was expected to run for six weeks. When audiences started coming back and bringing friends, the run was extended for what everyone thought would be eight months. It's now been running for more than seven years.
"Frank Sinatra has touched all of our lives in one way or another," Hawking says. "You can go into any restaurant in any state in this country, and in a lot of other countries, and you'll hear a Frank Sinatra song playing at some point during your meal. Frank was larger than life during his career, and he lives on in our culture in so many ways. I'm lucky that I get to be a small part of that."
'His Way' plays at the Lincoln Theater Thursday–Sunday through Sept. 4. Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; Saturday–Sunday matinees at 3pm. Lincoln Theater, 100 California Drive, Yountville. $25–$55. 707.944.1300.
From the August 17-23, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.
© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.