Aiming to recreate the heyday of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas has the potential to be a huge crowd-pleaser. The show, created by Mitch Sebastian has been doing the rounds both on tour and in the West End since 2002 with little change to its seemingly successful formula.
It’s the early 50s, the Sands Hotel and not only are the Rat Pack in town but Jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald is too. While it aims to create that Las Vegas glamour, the set is simplistic: the band on a raised platform, a grand piano, some stools and a representation of the Sands famous logo, are all that decorates the set, so it’s down to the music and the performers to sell the show.
First impressions are good, the band, under the tight musical direction of Matthew Freeman, are outstanding: crisp and pin-sharp, they recreate the sound of the best of the big bands, Freeman also has a fine, fine touch on the piano. Garrett Phillips as Frank Sinatra also makes his mark, recreating Sinatra’s sonorous tone perfectly as well as his idiosyncratic phrasing, although he’s entirely wooden as he moves around the stage. David Hayes has captured some of the voice, but is the least co-ordinated Sammy Davis Jr you are likely to see – for a man renowned for his dancing skills, you can’t help think they could have tried a little harder in the casting and while a heavily panstick-ed Nigel Casey has Dean Martin’s shtick down-pat and moves well, he is often over-powered by the band. Nicola Emmanuel as Ella Fitzgerald makes a fleeting appearance and while entirely competent, fails to make much of an impression.
While there is a fair representation of the main trio’s biggest hits: I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Mr Bojangles, That’s Amore, to name a few, there are some less well known numbers that will either delight or frustrate. In the case of this reviewer, it frustrates somewhat. With three (and with Fitzgerald, four) artists with such rich back catalogues, there is space to make this an evening of out-and-out highs, however, the uneven nature of the song choices means the evening never really hits its stride. That coupled with some utterly cringe-worthy linking dialogue and an attempt at humour in the second act, that falls flat on its face – you can feel the tumbleweed slowly making its way across the stage – you can’t help feel that it’s all an opportunity missed.
There’s undoubtedly talent on the stage, both in the singers and musicians, but their potential is not being exploited. It’s time to get rid of the sexist, racist and homophobic banter and while there’s an argument that it’s reflective of the era represented, it’s just lazy, especially with a cast with so much to give musically – less chat, more music please. These artists and they way they sang these songs can speak for themselves. An overhaul is needed to get the most from the music and the cast. Still an enjoyable evening if you concentrate on the music and ignore all the filler.
Runs until 10 February 2018 | Image: Betty Zapata
This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub here