“Let’s Be Frank” — a half-hour episode of the NJ PBS series “Here’s the Story” that debuted on Jan. 10 and now can be streamed on njpbs.org (or below, where it is embedded) — takes a look at the Frank Sinatra Sing Off vocal competitions that have taken place annually in Sinatra’s original hometown, Hoboken, starting in 2007. These are fun, nostalgia-filled shows at which all the singers do their best to sound like Ol’ Blue Eyes on classic tunes like “Fly Me to the Moon,” “(Theme From) New York, New York” and “My Way.” (Full disclosure: I was a judge at the 2018 installment.)
But producer-director Steve Rogers spends much of the film zeroing in on one contestant in particular: Tyler Ricker.
Ricker, who lives in Manchester Township (Ocean County) and works at Target, didn’t win the Hoboken contest that Rogers films (last year’s event, held at the Bissinger Room at Stevens Institute of Technology’s Howe Center). Chris Patti — from Citrus Springs, Florida — did. But Ricker does sound uncannily like Sinatra and, at just 27 years old, is significantly younger than the other contestants (and, one imagines, most Frank Sinatra impersonators, anywhere).
Rogers talks to the other singers as well, but devotes much of the episode to interviews with Ricker, his mother, and others who have been impressed by his talent. Rogers also includes performance footage of him at Ebby’s Ristorante & Lounge in Seaside Park, and on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights. None of the other contestants get close to that amount of attention.
The unassuming Ricker — who could pass for even younger than 27 — seems totally sincere in his love of Sinatra. His Sing Off performance includes some dynamic showmanship, too, and the Ebby’s footage is notable in a different way: The restaurant patrons chat among themselves, barely paying attention to him, but he perseveres, taking this show as seriously as if he were singing for a rapt audience in a glamorous concert hall.
In one of the interview segments, he talks about being exposed to the music Sinatra made — and the music of other vintage pop artists such as Perry Como and Nat King Cole — at a young age, via his grandmother. “How could you just not fall in love with both the music and the mystique of Frank Sinatra?” he asks.
So, by all means, watch this episode if you are interested in getting a taste of what Hoboken’s annual Sinatra Sing Offs are all about. It captures that well.
But Rogers seems more interested, ultimately, in letting the world know about the remarkable Tyler Ricker.
For more on Ricker, visit facebook.com/TylerRickerMusician.
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