BWW Reviews: The RAT PACK LOUNGE at the Dutch Apple
If there's anything people like, it's music. And if there's any music you can actually get everyone from your grandmother to a post-collegiate hipster to your neighborhood hip-hop dancer to agree on, it's probably, yes, the Rat Pack. The phenomenon extends around the world, in fact, as this reviewer recently listened to Frank Sinatra with a younger new friend from Brazil, who already knew the Chairman of the Board's work. And that means that any show with plenty of Sinatra and other Rat Pack music in it is bound to go down well with an audience. Originally developed as HEAVEN HELP US, the jukebox play THE RAT PACK LOUNGE, by James Hindman and Ray Roderick, is currently bringing the music of the Chairman, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. to the stage of the Dutch Apple.
The story? It's a bit familiar in some ways, maybe in a lot of ways. Guy with issues is visited by those from the afterlife. In this case, the guy is Vic Candelino, who inherited his father's bar, the Rat Pack Lounge. It's New Year's Eve and he's ready to off himself because of his depression about never being a star, even though Sinatra had once said he'd be a great singer. Well, of course, God (never shown on stage, though He cancels an appointment with Moses to handle this good deed) has to send Sinatra, with his two favorite sidekicks, down to the bar to save Vic.
They arrive there in the bodies of current patrons and staff of the bar - which proves a bit disconcerting to themselves as well as to Vic, played by Justin Robinson. Director Victor Legaretta stars as Sinatra, who has jumped into a patron's body, while Seth Abrahms, who has played Dean Martin before, plays the crooner arriving in the body of one Jeorge Rodriguez. Solomon Kee, a Sammy Davis Jr. interpreter, is the one-eyed wonder (yes, of course there are jokes about that throughout the show) as seen through the body of a Bobby Goldberg - yes, Sammy notes after checking thoroughly, Goldberg is definitely Jewish.
The Rat Pack trio (sans close friend Peter Lawford, whom we're informed is now down in a very hot place indeed in the afterlife) first has to convince Vic that they're themselves, and then convince him that he shouldn't do himself in. Both tasks are easier said than done, especially as a willing audience also has to be convinced. Although everything from "My Way" to "Volare" to "Bye, Bye Blackbird" is sung in the first act, much of it is only in snatches, or is turned to comic plot devices - and much of it is not quite convincingly in the original singers' styles, although proof abounds that this cast is incredibly talented at giving an audience the full Rat Pack sound. However, most of that proof waits for the second act.
If there is a true flaw with this show, it's that it feels like two one-act plays: one a play in which Frankie and the gang come back to Earth to save a young man, and one in which the Rat Pack and friends (read Vic the bar owner) perform a traditional 1960's Rat Pack casino lounge routine, both with the songs and their traditional arrangements, and with the humor with which the songs were interrupted by all of the singers' friends on stage. Although mentions of the first act's plot carried into the second act, this reviewer had to agree at intermission with a number of people who said that the play had felt complete at the end of the first act. There's a certain cognitive dissonance in the book - fortunately, that dissonance does not extend to the music.
A special mention must be made of performer Emily Thomas, playing both the aide to a real estate agent and "Angie" - like the Rat Pack themselves, this reviewer took her at first to be Rat Pack associate, actress Angie Dickinson, but she reveals that "Angie" is a nickname for "Angel" - she's been sent down by God during the first act to assist the guys in saving Vic, because their own efforts are failing. Thomas is a fabulous singer and turns "Too Close For Comfort" in the first act and "I Love Being Here With You" in the second act into more fun than an audience should be allowed to have. Of the Rat Pack interpreters themselves, Kee is most consistently like his original, astonishingly like Sammy Davis Jr. in both musical performance and body language, though Abrahms is a fine Dino impressionist, especially during his "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime".
Fair warning to those who may be easily offended by it: the Rat Pack guys are nothing if not themselves, and the easy '60s sexist remarks made throughout the show may be bothersome. Also, be aware, "Angie," who may be an angel but does eerily remind one of Ms. Dickinson, winds up lounging in her lingerie, and posing around in it, in much of the first act - it's far from nude but it's quite revealing. And a small technical flaw noticed by this long-time Dean Martin fan: on stage at the Sands and on television, Martin habitually drank not clear but dark "liquor", which was usually tea or apple juice rather than the Scotch or bourbon he pretended it to be - the gin-or-vodka water used on stage in this production is not precisely authentic to this reviewer's recollection of the oft-discussed subject. But don't let that dissuade you.
As with most jukebox musicals, you're there for the music; if the music of the Rat Pack is what you're looking for, this is certainly your show. At Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre through February 9; call 717-898-1900 for tickets, or visit www.dutchapple.com.