Director & Choreographer: Mitch Sebastian
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Established in the 1950s but only cementing their brand of high-spirited bonhomie in their appearances together in the 1960s, The Rat Pack pretty much invented ‘cool’. A group of entertainers headed up by Frank Sinatra and consisting of four other core members including Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, they appeared in films together as well as being well established in the Las Vegas scene of the time. It is their Vegas appearances that are the basis of this show – a recreation of what it would have been like to see their show at The Sands Hotel circa 1962. Each of the three featured performers were big stars in their own right and this show allows each to shine with solo performances of some of their signature songs as well as bringing them together in pairs and as a trio for some of the banter that made their partnership so popular with the public.
With a show such as this, the production stands or falls of the performers and how accurately they depict their ‘characters’. Fortunately, for the most part, the cast succeed and all of them display great talent and stage presence throughout. Stephen Rashbrook perfectly portrays Sinatra both physically and vocally. Due to him seeming to struggle in the higher register, his voice is perhaps of a later Sinatra but it is still an extremely impressive turn. Renditions of classics like I’ve Got You Under My Skin and the inevitable finale of My Way are showstoppers. Full of the required energy and cheeky charm, Darren Charles makes for a great Sammy Davis Jr, particularly considering how difficult it must be to avoid tipping into caricature imitating a person who was so larger-than-life, but he manages to perfectly pull off numbers like Mr Bojangles and What Kind of Fool Am I. Rounding out the main trio is Nigel Casey as Dean Martin. Ironically, despite being the least accurate portrayal of the three (both physically and vocally) Casey still manages to steal the show with a charismatic turn, a wonderfully comic physicality and a great rapport with the audience. His drunk scenes are brilliantly done, as are his renditions of songs like Volare and That’s Amore.
The show really picks up when the stars interact and much fun is had when Martin and Davis duet with Shall We Dance and when the three get together for an amusing medley near the end of the show. These scenes include The Rat Pack’s trademark patter and this, unfortunately, causes a problem. Many of the gags are racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic and far from politically correct. Yes, these jokes might be historically accurate but for a modern audience, they leave a rather nasty taste in the mouth.
Adding some much-needed glamour to the proceedings are The Burelli Sisters – a trio of backing singers and dancers specifically invented for this show and beautifully played by Joanna Walters, Laura Darton and Amelia Adams-Pearce. We also get a special guest appearance from another legend in the shape of Ella Fitzgerald as played by Nicola Emmanuel. This is another accurate portrayal and her brief appearance includes songs like The Lady is a Tramp and Night and Day. The real star of the show here though is the fantastic twelve piece swing band headed up by conductor/pianist Matthew Freeman.
An inconsistent overall pace and too many jokes that don’t land are just about made up for with a rousing finale where the entire company belt out Mack the Knife and That’s Life. The Rat Pack are timelessly classy and although this show may not win them any new fans, it should certainly keep the many existing ones happy.
Runs until 12 May 2018 | Image: Contributed