The Theatreguide.London Review
The Rat Pack
Haymarket Theatre Winter 2017-2018
An evening of light entertainment for the not-too-demanding, this salute to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr at the peak of their powers and hipness is difficult to review, and I must begin with a disclaimer.
The performers for any given night are drawn from a pool of three Sinatra impersonators and two each of Martin and Davis copies, which makes (if my maths are correct) twelve possible line-ups.
Factor in the pool of four women of whom three will appear as back-up singers, dancers and props for the mildly sexist jokes, and the chances of your seeing exactly the same line-up I did are pretty slim. So accept this as a report on one pick-and-mix.
By far the star of this combination is Garrett Phillips, a brilliant mimic whose Sinatra is uncannily spot-on. Songs from The Lady Is A Tramp to White Christmas really are a case of 'Close your eyes and you'd swear it's Frank', and Phillips also has the physical mannerisms and the speaking voice down pat.
He is even sly enough to catch Sinatra just at the tipping point when his jazz stylist's looseness with rhythm and lyrics was going to turn unfortunately into a self-conscious hipness, as with Mack The Knife's 'You can bet that cat is getting back in town'.
As Davis, David Hayes is uneven. He has the look and body language right, though he is no dancer and nowhere near as light on his feet as Davis (who was his generation's equivalent of Michael Jackson, as much a dancer and general ball of energy as singer). Hayes gets the sound right in Too Close For Comfort but is way off in Mr Bojangles.
The programme compiled by director Mitch Sebastian reflects and only slightly exaggerates an imbalance that was there with the originals, as Hayes gets fewer songs than the other two, who treat his Sammy more as a mascot than as a respected fellow professional. (One of the most painful things about watching old recordings of the original trio is the way Davis played Uncle Tom).
A distant and shameful third place goes to Nigel Casey as Dean Martin. Martin had a distinctive syrupy-thick voice that was identifiable from the first note and, I would think, easily imitated.
But Casey doesn't even try, singing instead in his own voice and style and thus coming across as generic slightly-creepy Italian crooner.
Even Martin's theme song Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime defeats him, and I guarantee that what you just heard in your head when you read that song title was closer to Dean than Casey even tries to get.
The script makes Casey rely even more than Martin ever did on drunk jokes - all three men enjoyed their Scotch and cigarettes, but Martin's drunk act was just an act - further distancing him from any pretense of an accurate impersonation.
As I said, you will probably see a different mix of performers, with different strengths and weaknesses. At worst, you'll get to hear some golden-age American pop songs nicely crooned, which isn't the worst way to spend an evening.
The current show has a Christmas theme, with about a third of the songs holiday-related. It runs to January 6, to be replaced by a more general song list, including a salute to Ella Fitzgerald, through February 3.
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