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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Rat Pack Confidential
Whitehall Theatre       Autumn 2003

One of two shows currently in the West End devoted to the heyday of Frank Sinatra and buddies, this one is by far the more ambitious and better written, but on the basic level of tribute concert the less successful.

The script is adapted by Paul Sirett from Shawn Levy's book about the very brief period around 1960 when Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and a few others seemed the epitome of Playboy Magazine-style swinging sophistication.

The show follows Levy's structure of moving backwards and forwards from the few months when the gang combined filming of the caper movie Ocean's Eleven with performances in Las Vegas.

Adaptor Sirett imagines Joey Bishop, B-list comic and the only surviving member of the core group, being visited in his eighties by the ghosts of the others and drawn back to a group performance at the Sands Hotel.

There, between numbers and comic bits, they sometimes sympathetically and sometimes maliciously tell each other's back stories and futures - Sinatra's mob connections, Davis's experiences of racism, the group's tangled relationship with John F. Kennedy, the declines of Martin and of Peter Lawford.

A clever structure frequently sets these narrations and dramatizations against the singers' performances in appropriate or ironic ways.

Despite some awkwardness in the frame device, which means among other things that Joey Bishop must be played by an actor more than 30 years older than the others, the show does capture a sense of a fragile moment in all the participants' careers, along with their frequently less happy paths to and from that peak.

Where the evening falls down badly is on the level of Stars In Their Eyes-style imitation.

Richard Shelton does vaguely resemble Frank Sinatra of the 1960s, and occasionally catches both the timbre and the style of his voice, most successfully in a mournful Wee Small Hours of the Morning and a finger-popping You Make Me Feel So Young. 

Paul Sharma has Sammy Davis's body language down perfectly, but too rarely comes close to duplicating the voice and style, most nearly successful in What Kind of Fool Am I.

But Alex Giannini comes nowhere near Dean Martin's very recognizable and, one would think, easily imitatible sound, and one could not guess that Kevin Colson was playing Joey Bishop and Robin Kingsland Peter Lawford were we not told.

(Granted, neither Bishop nor Lawford is particularly remembered today, but films and tapes of the two do exist, and a little more effort could have been made to capture them.)

So what we have is a well-conceived show badly miscast or misdirected, designed to conjure up a golden moment in entertainment history but almost totally failing to evoke the iconic participants themselves a case in which less, better done, might have been more.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Rat Pack Confidential - Whitehall Theatre 2003