One memorable scene in "Diner," Barry Levinson's love letter to 1959 Baltimore, has the characters in their Fells Point hangout pondering a serious question: Who's better, Sinatra or Mathis? It might seem hard to believe now that Frank and Johnny were once considered equals, as Ol' Blue Eyes went on to become larger than life, while Mathis seemed perpetually frozen in the romantic swoon of "Chances Are." Forty-five years later, Mathis is still singing the ballad that was his first No. 1 hit, and the adoring crowd that filled Wolf Trap on Monday night to hear him drank in every sweetly wavering note as if time had suddenly stood still.
Besides Mathis's amazingly youthful appearance -- he'll be 70 next year but hardly looks a day over 45 -- the striking thing about Monday's show was the power that his voice still holds. In front of a full orchestra that mostly steered clear of contemporary schmaltz and got a decent approximation of his glorious AM arrangements, Mathis was able to make standards such as "It's Not for Me to Say" or "The Twelfth of Never" ripple with emotion. Though he doesn't tour diligently anymore -- his official Web site has as much information on the state of his golf game as his music -- Mathis still clearly enjoys his craft.
And the audience swooning throughout his two half-hour sets knew that the romantic cool of "Wonderful! Wonderful!" will never go out of style.
-- Patrick Foster