The Rat Pack, playing for a week at London's Peacock Theatre to round off the first leg of a national tour, should not be confused with Rat Pack Confidential. The latter show, a stage adaptation of Shawn Levy's book staged at Nottingham in September, was altogether more ambivalent about Frank Sinatra's showbiz gang. This, on the other hand, is celebration from beginning to end.
The show aims to re-create the legendary, faux-shambolic joint performances given by Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr in the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas during the early 1960s. Indeed, not just the show: on opening night, guests were generously staked to $1000 of play money to fritter away on the roulette and blackjack tables in the various foyers. But the business onstage is simply a concert-style group of impersonations; the patter is largely if not entirely scripted, but the only "plot" is that of three stars singing and joshing their way through an evening's cabaret.
Stephen Triffit is an amazing Sinatra impersonator. He has the timbre, the musical phrasing and even the look of fortysomething Francis Albert down to a T. He can never quite relax phsyically, though, and always seems to be making a little effort to appear at ease whether in song or dialogue. George Daniel Long has something of the opposite problem as Davis: easy and skilled of manner, but the musical component sounds rather studied. The greatest strengths and weaknesses combine in Mark Adams' portrayal of Dean Martin. Thicker-set than Dino, Adams bears only a passing physical resemblance, and his singing voice verges on parody; however, his comic instincts make him far and away the most assured and fluid non-musical performer of the three.
A fifteen-strong band (two-thirds of them on brass) give the requisite swing and kick to renditions of trademark numbers like "The Lady Is A Tramp", "Volare" and "Candyman", and after a first half consisting largely of solo spots, the trio let rip with their acerbic banter. This is where the premise of the show leads to some awkwardness, if one stops for a minute to consider the Klan jokes being directed at Davis; "Frank" and "Dino" even put white bar towels on their heads at one point. His Jewishness isn't spared either, and all he gets in return is a single "wop" gag. Granted, the evening doesn't set out to address any of these issues, but just portraying them neutrally forty years on is a sizeable cop-out. This is especially true given that there are a smattering of anachronisms elsewhere: the set includes "My Way" and "New York, New York", songs naturally expected though not in fact written until after the Pack's heyday.
The Rat Pack is an accomplished compilation/concert musical. However, there's a wealth of material here which either isn't addressed or is actively dodged. And we never find out why Dino was so fascinated with eels that he spent years singing "That's a moray"...
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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