The Christmas version is at the Fox, and if the Frank Sinatra I saw on opening night was not all that convincing, the spot-on Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. more than made up for it. The ghost of Christmas past never looked or sounded so good.
For those of you missed “The Rat Pack” when it came through town back in 2007, the show — originally produced in Great Britain as “The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas” — cranks the Celebrity Tribute knob up to 11 by reproducing a typical mid-1960s Las Vegas appearance by the ruling triumvirate of the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. The package includes a genuine twelve-piece big band of local musicians led from the piano by tour music director Dominic Barlow and a trio of powerfully talented backup performers billed as The Burelli Sisters. It’s all wrapped up with flashy period sets and lighting that evoke pre–theme park Vegas, complete with wired microphones and a fully-stocked liquor cart.
The Christmas-themed version downplays the appropriately raunchy humor of the regular “Rat Pack” show (presumably on the assumption that there will be children in the audience) and adds a raft of seasonal hits to the song list, but otherwise the glossy, retro-hipster spirit is the same.
In order for the show to work, of course, all three impersonations have to get over the disbelief-suspension threshold and let us fool ourselves into reacting as we would to the original performers. The clear leader in that regard is Mark Adams as Dean Martin — not surprising, given that he’s an Olivier Award–nominated member of the original West End cast. He sounds, moves, and even looks so much like Martin in his prime that suspension of disbelief is no longer willing — it’s inevitable.
It’s easy to dismiss celebrity impersonation, of course, but when it gets this accurate you’ve got to acknowledge that it’s just plain old good acting. The applause for Mr. Adams’s performances of Martin hits like “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”, “Everybody Loves Somebody”, and “Volare” was hearty and deserved.
Giles Terera’s Sammy Davis Jr. is just as impressive. Another veteran of the British “Rat Pack”, he has Davis’s voice and cocky style down pat. He also moves with that experienced dancer’s grace that typified Davis — which makes it a pity that director/choreographer Mitch Sebastian hasn’t given him a solo dance number. He sings Davis classics like “Once in a Lifetime” with authority and his Christmas carol medley in the second act was truly impressive. Beginning with only a drum solo as accompaniment and building to a rousing big band finish, the number requires a performer with an ironclad sense of pitch and rhythm. The late Mr. Davis had it, and it would appear that Mr. Terera does as well.
The official Frank Sinatra for this tour is Stephen Triffitt, another West End alumnus, but difficulties with his visa have delayed his arrival in St. Louis. On opening night his place was taken by the alternate, Alex Banks. An experienced voice-over artist with his own Sinatra tribute show, Mr. Banks should have been persuasive in the role, but while he had some of Sinatra’s basic style down, he neither looked nor sounded very much like the real thing. Mr. Banks is clearly a solid performer in his own right, but I was left with the impression that he simply hadn’t yet managed to fully inhabit his role.
In the saving-the-best-for-last department, allow me to lavish some praise on Soophia Foroughi, Grace Holdstock, and Frankie Jenna, a.k.a. The Burelli Sisters. Decked out in a dazzling and constantly changing array of slinky outfits, the trio combines precisely timed showgirl dance moves with Andrews Sisters–style close vocal harmony. They’re on stage for much of the evening, sometimes on their own but more often backing up the stars. Their work so perfectly captures the style of the era, though, that “backup” hardly begins to describe it. It might be more accurate to say they’re the backbone of the show. Certainly it would be less impressive without them.
Accompanying everything was that classic big band I mentioned earlier, playing both original arrangements by music supervisor Matthew Freeman and classic charts by Nelson Riddle and Don Costa. This is the kind of group you rarely get to hear these days, with a full complement of trombones, trumpets, and saxes. The players had, I’m told, no real rehearsal with the cast, but you wouldn’t have known it from the tight, solid sound they produced.
So, dig: for a cool Yule, check out “Christmas with the Rat Pack — Live at the Sands” at The Fox through December 18. Yeah, the Chairman of the Board might not be all there, but you still get Deano, Sammy, the fabulous Burelli babes, and those swingin’ cats in the band. For more information, you may surf over to fabulousfox.com or give ‘em a ring-a-ding-ding at 314-534-1678.