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Christmas with the Rat Pack: Theater Review - Ladue News: Arts & Entertainment

Christmas with the Rat Pack: Theater Review

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Posted: Friday, December 9, 2011 4:12 pm

Story: It’s sometime in the early 1960s, and Las Vegas already is a happening place. Down on the Strip, the Sands Hotel has become the playground for Hollywood luminaries Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., who lead an oddly assembled group known as The Rat Pack that includes Joey Bishop and President John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Peter Lawford.

Supported by an alluring trio of shapely ladies known as the Burrelli Sisters and backed by The Rat Pack Big Band, Ol’ Blue Eyes, Dino and Sammy enthrall their audience with their older version of a frat party big on booze, cigarettes and uncensored jokes at the expense of various minority groups and each other. Apparently it’s the holiday season, so the stage includes a towering Canadian spruce and the show is sprinkled with a liberal dosing of Christmas tunes in this gaudy and glittering desert oasis.

Highlights: Christmas with the Rat Pack is a spin-off of sorts from Frank, Sammy & Dean: The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas, which originated in London’s West End in 2000 and was a huge hit there before crossing the pond for a national tour in the States. This newer version adheres to the formula of its successful predecessor, showing us how these iconic stars of half a century ago entertained themselves while crooning for the mom ‘n’ pop tourist set at the tables.

One can almost imagine Mad Men majordomo Don Draper flying some big-cheese advertising clients to Vegas to sit beneath the ‘stars’ while Don cavorted with some leggy showgirl later in the evening.

Other Info: There’s not really much of a structured format to the two acts and two and a half hours that comprise Christmas with the Rat Pack, just an assortment of holiday tunes intermixed between standards, many of which were made famous by any of the three performers. Set designer Sean Cavanagh fills the spacious Fox stage with a facsimile of a Vegas stage, including a set of stairs ascending to the area where the talented Big Band members are seated, with the Christmas tree and on-stage pianist at stage right.

Mark Wheatley’s lighting provides ample support, especially on the first-act finale, a glitzy tribute to Gotham in Sinatra’s signature number, New York, New York, with the Burrelli Sisters (Soophia Foroughi, Grace Holdstock and Frankie Jenna) enticingly costumed in revealing red dance outfits.

Music supervisor Matthew Freeman presents an appealing blend of horns and percussion in the musical combo that backs the pianist, while writer Roy Smiles loads the script with plenty of jokes, some evoking hearty laughs and others grimaces, uttered by the imitators on stage. Director and choreographer Mitch Sebastian and resident director Jo Kempton move the show along in steady if unspectacular fashion.

The three leads offer varying degrees of believability. Best is Mark Adams, who not only captures Martin’s easy-going style vocally but his self-deprecating humor as well, even if writer Smiles overdoes it with the drunk jokes that helped make Martin famous. Familiar versions of Volare and Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime serve as a suitable showcase both for Martin’s staple songs and Adams’ fine interpretation of them in character.

Giles Terera has the limber limbs and explosive energy of Sammy Davis Jr. even as he puts his own stamp on the portrayal. He starts strong with a credible rendering of Once in a Lifetime and then segues into a more theatrical version of Mr. Bojangles. Terera also shows his versatility on a personally disappointing number blending several religious Christmas tunes in a jazzed-up version melded with the band’s “theatrical” drummer, albeit one well received by other patrons.

Least successful is Alex Banks, the alternate for Stephen Triffitt as Sinatra. Granted, Banks has the least appealing and affable of the three performers to interpret, but even so his reading comes across too often as arrogant, self-important and, worst of all, not funny. Additionally, Banks brings a far too nasal tone to his warbling of Sinatra standards such as Come Fly with Me, I’ve Got You Under My Skin and My Kinda Town.

Foroughi, Holdstock and Jenna provide delightful accompaniment for the stars as the Burrelli Sisters, frequently donning different but always appealing gowns as they sashay their way through numerous tunes, whether warbling in tight background harmony or serving as joke material up front.

The boys engage in some good-natured hijinks on numbers such as Standing on the Corner and several holiday tunes in a Christmas medley featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Silver Bells, White Christmas and Winter Wonderland as well as a spirited version of That’s Life on the evening’s penultimate number. A good time is had by most, but somehow this tinseled tribute to a bygone era too often lacks heart, ultimately becoming a bit tedious and repetitious. But, that’s life sometimes.

Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Group: Touring Company

Venue: Fox Theatre, 539 North Grand

Dates: Through December 18

Tickets: From $15; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com

Photos courtesy of previous production

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