Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show will be wowing crowds at the Bucks County Playhouse for just one more week. When HBO announced that it was to make a movie about the Rat Pack, longtime family friend, Joey Bishop called Sandy Hackett (comedian Buddy Hackett’s son) and said, ”Sandy, I think you would be perfect to play me.” Striking a chord with Hackett, he then decided to write his own show.
For those of you who don’t know, the original Rat Pack was a group of actors centered on their leader, Humphrey Bogart. But after Bogart’s death in 1957, the press and public referred to a later version of the group (which actually called themselves the Summit or the Clan) featuring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, as the Rat Pack. They appeared together in movies such as Ocean’s 11 and Robin and the 7 Hoods and started appearing together on stage in Las Vegas to sold-out houses.
The evening is well constructed and nicely balanced with the right number of popular selections from the American Musical Songbook, new songs by lyricist, Ron Miller and a goodly amount of comic horseplay. Starting off with a scrim on which a montage of images of Frank, Dean, Sammy and Joey are projected, it ends with a still photo of the members of the rat pack standing in front of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. One by one, (in the order of their deaths) the men disappear. When the projection dissolves, we see four figures silhouetted behind the scrim as the voice of God (Buddy Hackett) booms that he is bringing back the guys for one last performance. The scrim rises and the foursome launches into the opening numbers, Hello Again (Hello Detroit with revised lyrics) and My Kind of Town. Joey Bishop (Sandy Hackett) then works the crowd with his comedy routine. Though the jokes are vintage, when they are expertly delivered as they are here, they are a hoot. At the performance I attended, there was a particularly obnoxious patron in the front row who wouldn’t stop heckling the performers. Mr. Hackett adroitly handled this tactless bumpkin by allowing him to make his comments right into the microphone. Of course the heckler’s stupid cracks elicited the sound of crickets. Mr. Hackett then zapped him with a few bon mots – much to the delight of the audience. He then took the man’s hat and threw it on top of the grand piano – telling him that he could have it back at the end of the show – if he was quiet. It was wonderful.
Dean Martin (Tom Wallek) then takes the stage and delivers two of his well-known songs (That’s Amore and Volare) interspersed with some memorable shtick. Mr. Wallek’s Dean is right on the money, with a sweet crooning voice and Martin’s characteristic mannerisms: the dangling cigarette, the tie touches and the eyebrow arching. Of course there is the proverbial glass of whiskey and the drinking jokes, though in reality Dean Martin only drank ice tea on stage.
Next, it’s Sammy Davis, jr.’s turn to thrill us with his segment. Kenny Jones sings, dances and plays the drums, all the while inhabiting the soul of Sammy. Mr. Bojangles combined with the dramatic Will I Still Be Me? (Ron Miller & Ken Hirsch) is a highlight.
The second act opens with the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra (Angelo Babbaro) singing a medley of some of Sinatra’s biggest hits including Come Fly With Me, I Got You Under My Skin and For Once in My Life. Mr. Babbaro’s natural voice is a dead ringer for Sinatra’s.
An interesting addition is Lisa Dawn Miller who is supposed to be Sinatra’s “one true love”. (My presumption here is that she’s supposed to represent Ava Gardner.) She sings a medley of The Things I Should Have Said and Wasn’t I a Good Time with lyrics by her father, Ron Miller (who also penned the lyrics to “Once in My Life”). It is a refreshingly tender moment, beautifully executed by Miss Miller.
Rest assured that there is plenty of repartee between the boys interspersed throughout the evening to keep you laughing. And the big finale with all four includes, Mack the Knife, My Way and New York, New York. The six piece band, onstage throughout the proceedings, is expertly conducted by Pianist/Conductor, Theodis Rodgers.
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