BWW Reviews: Spot-On Impersonations in SANDY HACKETT'S RAT PACK SHOW at Theatre-By-The-Sea
I have to start this review by posting a clear disclaimer: I am not the target audience for "Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show," the show currently running at Theatre-By-the-Sea. I am a self-described young, liberal-minded, theatre person. This show, conversely, plays best to folks who are old enough to remember seeing the Rat Pack in action.
There's no plot to speak of, but that's not what the show strives for. The premise is that God, as played by the disembodied voice of the legendary Buddy Hackett, has decided to send the Rat Pack back to earth for one final show. From there, it's an impersonation game, with standards and jokes straight through.
Those impersonations, by the way, are fantastic. Act 1 is dominated by Dean Martin (played by Tom Wallek) and Sammy Davis, Jr., (played by Louie Velez). Wallek's Martin captures Martin's look very closely, and vocally he's spot on. He's got Martin's mumbling charm and vague drunken playfulness down solid. Velez, meanwhile, has an uncanny knack for capturing Davis' sound and giddy sense of humor, while supplying immense vocal power; there were moments where he might not have needed a microphone to reach the back of the balcony.
One of the best performances of the evening comes from Danny Grewen, who gave a Sinatra performance to remember. He didn't necessarily look like Ol' Blue Eyes, and his movements may have been a shade on the stiff side rather than the suave, but his voice was killer. He gave rousing renditions of each of Sinatra's biggest hits, all in a velvety smooth baritone that evoked the ease with which Sinatra used to croon.
While Sandy Hackett was on script, delivering 1960's style standup as Joey Bishop, he was delightful. If I found him charmingly amusing, however, the rest of the audience positively ate it up - particularly those of a certain age. As Wallek's Martin mused, "The second row looked like the Lawrence Welk tour bus broke down," a knowing nod to the target audience of this show. That audience, by the way, simply adored the whole production, from start to finish.
Or at least, most of them did. One woman appeared to get up and leave the show during act 1. No one will truly know why she left - perhaps it was a medical emergency or a family issue. Perhaps she just wasn't enjoying herself. I can't tell you why she left, but I can tell you that in the most awkward example of reverse-heckling I've ever seen, Hackett hounded the woman out of the theatre, and then circled back around several times in the show to harp on her exit. Other times, the cast called out members of the audience who must have had a less than enthused look on their face, by saying things along the lines of, and I'm paraphrasing here, "It's Matunuck, If you weren't going to be here, you didn't have shit to do."
Hackett had the rest of the audience in stitches throughout, and despite missing some key Rat Pack elements (I particularly missed the big brass band, which here has been cut down to three pieces), the show is successful in what it's trying to be. It's fluffy summer entertainment, full of jokes and songs that will most likely have you humming and smiling along by the end.
I feel the need to point out that some of the humor may put some audience members off. For one, there was a segment where Hackett dressed up as a geisha and proceeded to spew some of the more mean-spirited yelllowface this side of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's. While the audience loved it, it's hard to believe the act would play well in an area with a bit more cultural diversity. Just about everyone gets to be the butt end of an offensive joke in this show, including Jews, African Americans, little people (charmingly referred to as midgets), Native Americans, Indians, and most of all women. I can't count how many times an outdated, questionably misogynistic joke was made at females' expense, particularly those jokes referring to men literally murdering their wives/having them murdered/abusing them. All that aside, if you love the Rat Pack's music, you will most likely enjoy this show. I thoroughly enjoyed the musical portions; the comedy just fell flat for me.
Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show runs through June 22nd at Theatre-by-the-Sea. Tickets are on sale now by calling (401) 782-8587 theatrebythesea.com, or in person at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield, RI 02879.