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The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas

New Theatre, Oxford, Thu 15th - Sat 17th June, 2006.

February 23, 2010
This was the opening night of a week-long run of the popular show featuring impressions of crowd-pleasing crooners Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. Originally a West End show and now touring the UK, the show attempts to recreate one of the legendary Las Vegas shows at the Sands Hotel in 1962.

All the old favourite songs were here – Sinatra’s New York New York, That’s Life, Mack The Knife; Martin’s That’s Amore and Sway; and Davis Jr’s What Kind Of Fool Am I, and a personal favourite of mine, Mr Bojangles.

The songs were all crooned flawlessly and I was pleased that the focus was on the music rather than drawn out with boring banter – however, the show lacked that certain je ne sais quoi. The characters all played their parts well enough – the drunk old lush Martin, and the lively comedy fall boy Davis Jr contrasting well with the straight man routine of Sinatra – but there was just that certain something – a spark – missing. The show livened up with the introduction of the Burelli sisters who added some real glamour and interest to the proceedings – in fact during the second half I found myself willing them to come back on and save what was becoming a routine croon-fest – and thankfully they did.

The second half gave us more dialogue and insight into the characters, in particular Martin’s battle with the bottle, at first endearing but by the end of the show rather sad – there were some amusing one-liners here but it felt as though they were mumbling in-jokes to each other on stage and at times I wasn’t sure if I hadn’t heard right or just didn’t get it – to play to the audience the jokes need to be projected out more clearly. Controversy was kept to a minimum with just a couple of references to Davis’ race and Jewish faith – but he gave as good as he got, and the jokes were pretty tame compared to what would have been bantered back in the day. It was surprisingly controversial to see the characters smoking on stage, sparking debate about whether the cigarettes were real or not and were they allowed – what a difference a smoking ban makes!

The big band provided fantastic backing and highlight performances for me were Sway, What Kind Of Fool Am I, Mack The Knife and a storming rendition of My Way to bring the final curtain down. I was a little disappointed by the Mr Bojangles version which lacked the passion it deserved and I found myself YouTubing it as soon as I got home to remind myself of the Davis Jr original version – even the Robbie Williams version has more magic than the stage version tonight.

I found myself comparing the show unfavourably to the fantastic Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tribute show which played at the New Theatre in late 2008 – and sadly this one didn’t hit the high notes for me. Do go and see it if you like big band music - you won’t be disappointed, but just don’t expect anything out of the ordinary. For now, it’s back to YouTube for me….
You've probably heard all about it. Hundreds of billboards in major UK cities are lacquered with the red, yellow and blue poster of The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas. This musical production is excellent. Charged with the difficult task of representing three icons that defined an entire tradition of American musical entertainment, each performer excelled in punching out the hits.

The Rat Pack's history dates back to the gathering of entertainers who hung out with Frank Sinatra in 1960, shooting a movie and performing in Las Vegas. The play itself centres on the charisma and music of three of the Rat Pack's household gods, all of whom became iconic dance-floor hit-makers in their own right: Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), Dean Martin (1917-1995) and Sammy Davis Jr (1925-1990). Following their deaths in the 1990s, this production pictures the trio as part of a tradition of wayward "It men" or "Okay guys" in American entertainment.

The stage of New Theatre was on fire with the performance of Sammy Davis Jr. in "Mr. Bojangles", the alluring wiggles and shuffles of the Burelli sisters, and Frank beating out his old numbers (both on his own and with the pack).

I have read reviews that criticise the production for many reasons – old-boy humour, polite racism, machoism, etc..

All these are valid criticisms, yet this is chiefly a musical production, remembering these suited icons of the fifties and sixties who defined a musical reality for generations to come, and despite not belonging to one of those generations, nor having an inclination for these so-called "unforgettable classics", I found the production still had a lot to offer.

The play is carefully peppered with Dean Martin's light-hearted shenanigans and jokes. Martin's jokes are still as humorous and capable of bringing a twenty-first century audience toward fits of giggling.

The combination of Dean's charisma, Frank's leadership and Sammy's showmanship, merged three single performances into one enthralling act.

The outstanding performances left my heart racing – as the doors opened after the show, the audience poured into George Street attempting to imitate the hits, still high on the truly effervescent musicality of the Rat Pack.

The cast includes: Louis Hoover and Andrew Kennedy (alternate) as Frank Sinatra; Michael Neilson and Mark Halliday (alternate) as Dean Martin; Allie Laurie and Alonzo Saunders as Sammy Davis Jr.; Anna Carmichael, Lucie Florentine, Clare Maurer and Laura Medforth as the Burelli sisters.
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