|Dean, Sammy, Joey, and Frankie
It’s all there: the music, the singing, the comedy, the raunch, the booze, but especially the attitude. The Rat Pack Is Back! now at the Marines Memorial does not star Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Dean Martin, or Sammy Davis, Jr., but it does feature four talented performers who can give broad hints of what those stars were like.
This recreates on stage a Vegas-style show, like what the originals did back in the ‘60s. Twelve musicians filter on in blackout. An unlit figure speaks as God, saying he is “sending you guys to do one last show,” mainly because the four of them are so boisterous He can’t get any sleep. The voice is a recording made by comedian Buddy Hackett before his death.
The Rats enter in dim lighting that only suggests their presences. Even in the semi-darkness, as they sing “Where or When,” the trademark moves and idioms emerge. Frankie has the hat and snaps his fingers. Dean has the cigarette and the cocktail glass. Sammy is a small bundle of energy. Joey is stiff. Different actors play these parts on different nights and in differing locations. On the night we saw them, Danny Grewen played Sinatra, Kyle Diamond played Davis, Jeff Applebaum was Bishop, and Robbie Howard was Martin. They are all fine singers and their voices were able to give a sense of the stylization of the Rats without belaboring the mimicry. Later they came on in fuller lighting for solo bits.
Applebaum managed to capture the posture and deadpan, slightly bored look that was so typical of Bishop in his stand-up career. The production used some seasonal references and the stage was decorated with garlands, poinsettias and big red bows. He talked about Randolph the Red Nosed Reindeer who followed Rudolph too closely.
Howard as Dino sang “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” then moved into Martin’s signature song “That’s Amore.” Howard captured the loose-limb stance of Martin and used the same only-slightly-off approach to pitch, but his voice lacks the trailing resonances that Martin had. He did a song Martin probably never heard, “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass out All Day Long,” then moved into the audience with “Everybody Loves Somebody” for some shamelessly sleazy flirting.
Some local references were introduced, such as when Kyle Diamond came on as Sammy Davis, Jr. and introduced himself as the Oakland Santa Claus. His slinky, jerky moves and frenetic activity accurately recalled the energetic dancing of Sammy. Diamond’s dark-horn rimmed glasses and small stature, along with his jewelry and elegant tailoring created an easily identifiable characterization. His vocalizations of “Black Magic” and “What Kind of Fool Am I” were very smooth and polished, but when he sang and danced to “Mr. Bojangles” he captured more closely the spirit of the original.
Midway through the hour-and-half show, the Sinatra character was introduced as the Chairman of the Board. Grewen first sang “Fly with Me.” He had self-assurance and command of the stage like Sinatra, but not the same relaxed, easy presence. His voice uses high, frontal tones which give excellent renditions of Sinatra’s familiar songs, but Grewen does not use a similar sense of phrasing in the lyrics. He does put an emphasis on the upbeat, very reminiscent of Sinatra’s style.
They all appear to be having a spontaneous good time without taking themselves too seriously. The nine-piece on-stage band was a part of the fun and provided loud brassy music. The antics and juvenile humor could grow old very quickly. Joey came on in a Chinese silk robe, trying to pass himself off as a Japanese Yoshi Bishop. He urged the people to “crap for Sammy.” The fake intro to “Nothing Could Be Finer Than to Shack up with a Minor” received some nervous laughter and was quickly passed.
The four performers captured the essence of the personalities, stage presences and vocal styles of the originals. When they sang in quartet they were all distinct and well differentiated. This is a floor-show on the stage. The banter and bonhomie of the characters is infectious. These men, all accomplished musicians and actors, put on a very good show on their own. If you are not familiar with the sources of their take-offs, they still give you a very professional, entertaining lounge act.
The Rat Pack Is Back! Continues at Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., SF through Jan. 7. Tickets ($40 to $70; $100 New Year’s Eve with champagne) are available by phone at (415) 771-6900 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.