Devised by and Director: Mitch Sebastian
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
There are some voices that are so full of atmosphere that they transport you entirely to another era, wistful voices that seem to suggest a simpler more thoughtful time. With Christmas only a few days away, everyone is more reflective and some of the most enduring festive tunes are gentle ballads about white Christmases and fresh starts, sung by some of the most recognisable voices of the twentieth century.
Christmas with the Rat Pack, playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, is the recreation of one night in the Sands Hotel Las Vegas in 1960 in which legendary singers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior performed together, mixing their most famous numbers with some comedy skits and plenty of drinks. Mitch Sebastian’s show follows directly from his 2003 Rat Pack production that has since been revived several times and has now been given a Christmas twist.
Audiences will come to this show to hear the songs of Sinatra, Martin and Davis Junior ably performed by their modern-day impersonators Garrett Phillips, Nigel Casey and David Hayes respectively. The strength of Christmas with the Rat Pack is right here in the music and ever-popular choices including ‘Mack the Knife’, ‘That’s Amore’ and ‘Mr Bojangles’ are mixed with yuletide classics such as ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ to create a broad and nostalgic programme.
Less successful is the show’s structure and while Sebastian deliberately avoids giving any real history or insight into the three men, claiming that ‘everyone wanted the myth’, what remains are slightly forced comic interludes with some pretty stale jokes that haven’t aged nearly as well as the songs. Capturing a particular moment in time is all very well, but without a proper context the humour often falls flat, eliciting only the odd giggle from the audience and, outside of their 1960s home, the attitudes to race and gender are a little uncomfortable in twenty-first century London, especially as the corseted women are a fictional addition.
But the music is the thing to see and Phillips leads the way as Frank Sinatra giving laudable versions of New York New York, Fly Me to the Moon and White Christmas, capturing not just Sinatra’s sound but also his intonation. Casey’s Dean Martin has the only distinct character as a womaniser and alcoholic – consuming more whiskey than an entire episode of Mad Men – but delivering crowd pleasers ‘King of the Road’ with aplomb, while Hayes’ Sammy Davis Junior gives a powerful and wide ranging vocal performance.
The additional singers Joanna Walters, Laura Darton and Amelia Adams-Pearce as the Burelli Sisters allow for the inclusion of male-female duets that vary the tone as well as adding depth to the backing vocals. All three are excellent singers but the choreographed dance sections lack finesse and synchronisation, without adding much to the overall effect.
Matthew Freeman’s Big Band are a high-point, moving easily between the slow and more upbeat numbers and performing over 30 different songs in the course of two and a half hours. The various solos add considerably to the success of the production, recreating the 1960s jazz feel and supporting the singers without overwhelming their voices.
Christmas with the Rat Pack has a real theatricality to it that attempts to be more than just a bland tribute concert to three well-loved crooners, and while its structure isn’t quite perfect, the depth and quality of the musical performances transports you back to 1960s Las Vegas and those smooth sounding Christmas songs that are still so recognisable today.
Runs until: 6 January 2018 | Image: Contributed