Symphonic Rat Pack with the CBSO – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Conductor: Alfonso Casado Trigo

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Rat Pack was a fluid group of around half a dozen entertainers, but the members most associated are Frank Sinatra, its effective leader for many years, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. And there can be no doubt that this was a supremely talented group about whom so many, probably apocryphal, stories have been told. If one wants to enjoy their unique style one has to look at film of old performances – never quite the same as being in the room – or enjoy a tribute to them.

Symphonic Rat Pack has three consummate entertainers donning the mantles of Sinatra, Martin and Davis Jr backed by the majesty of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) in the magnificent surroundings of Symphony Hall. These men – Stephen Triffitt as Sinatra, Mark Adams as Martin and George Long as Davis Jr – never once slip out of character and have honed their craft to the point where they have the look and sound of their characters: it is easy to imagine oneself in the Sands Casino enjoying them at the top of their game.

The show opens with a short overture from the orchestra showcasing their power. And the sound fills the hall effortlessly if the drumkit is occasionally overbearing. The orchestra tonight is under the baton of Alfonso Casado Trigo: as he moves fluidly on the podium swaying in time with the beat, one might wonder if his joints have been bolted together quite tightly enough. In any case, the orchestra picks up the mood and shows that it can really swing.

The actual songs commence with Adam’s Martin with a comedy number, When You’re Drinkin’, followed by Ain’t That a Kick in the Head, Sway and That’s Amore. Adams has Martin’s comedy persona cracked, with his drunken act, some slurring and swaying in movements and, of course, his relaxed demeanour when singing.
The show continues with Triffitt’s Sinatra, a man totally in command with a stunningly accurate voice and a twinkle in his eye. His first set includes Night and Day and I’ve Got You Under My Skin, which help demonstrate that Sinatra not only had a great voice but also performed songs superbly with his sense of timing and phrasing. Indeed, there’s a light moment in the second half when he sings Luck Be a Lady and remarks that it was that famous baritone, Marlon Brando, who sang it in the film before demonstrating exactly how it should be sung.

Long’s Sammy Davis Jr is quite uncanny. He has Davis Jr’s physicality off to a T, with his tight pinched movements, as well as his voice. His first set includes a haunting Mr Bojangles.

The guys also sing together in pairs or all three for some classic routines – Me and My Shadow from Sinatra and Davis Jr, for example, or Well Did You Evah! from Sinatra and Martin. For some numbers, Martin’s backing group, The Golddiggers is recreated on stage with period choreography as they perform. One, Hannah Lindsey, also performs with Triffitt’s Sinatra in Somethin’ Stupid, providing a sweet counterpoint to his voice.
The feeling of the period is enhanced by the costumes – bumfreezer jackets and skinny ties in the first half for the men followed by dinner wear in the second, and period hairdos and a parade of mini dresses from the ladies, setting the period firmly in the swinging 60s.

Yes, this is a nostalgic evening recreating past glories, but even more, it introduces a new generation to the style and panache of great performers. There are occasional sound balance issues when voices are less clear, but these are forgotten in the finale as the three men sing Mack the Knife, followed by a storming My Way from Triffitt, during which the audience is rapt. And then, of course, we have New York, New York from all three, the perfect ending to a great night out.

The programme tells us these three men have been performing together for over 20 years, and it truly shows. They are totally relaxed with one another, providing the absolute illusion of a group of regular guys having a ball – there’s a real sense of joy threaded throughout the performance and you can’t ask for more than that.

Reviewed on 26 January 2024

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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