BWW Review: The Loser's Lounge TRIBUTE TO THE RAT PACK Packs 'Em In at Joe's Pub
Oh, iconic Rat Pack, how should we salute thee? Let me count the ways.... Shall we play it straight or play it with a wink? Shall we be devoted, derivative, devilish, or derisive? Shall we show some swing and swagger? Or be uber-cool or kind of campy? The long-established Loser's Lounge company seems to vote for "All Of The Above." Like Rat Packer Frank Sinatra, each seems to want to strike a different note to proclaim "I did it 'My Way'!" At Joe's Pub, the eclectic collective of entertainers offers something for almost everyone, in a parade of approaches that ranges from "sincere" to "oh my dear!" --- a mixed bag to be sure. Even though uneven, the odds are that most would find reason to smile and happily hop into the hipster heyday melee. Under a wide umbrella, the program includes not just the expected songs of Sinatra and BFFs Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., but a few numbers from the prime period 1960s they did NOT get to. (One is related by blood, you could say: Nancy Sinatra's signature hit, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," but what would be the connection to "Big Spender"? No explanation or set-up was given, but hmmmm... I guess we could come up with fewer than six degrees of separation: Is it about the musical this song came from (Sweet Charity)? Davis appeared in the movie version (but just sang one number which wasn't this one) ...It was performed on Martin's TV show (but wait---- not by him).... Juliet Prowse starred in productions of the musical and she and Ol' Blues Eyes were in the movie of Can-Can, score by Cole Porter (who wrote two songs in the Loser Lounge set) and he and Prowse were briefly engaged. And I guess the guys in the R.P, were big spenders in Vegas and elsewhere. Or those who went to see 'em were. Never mind---it's all good fun.
The blaring band delivered plenty of pow, with some arrangements in homage to indelible trademarks of the fabulous forefathers who first created and drove the excitement in the old days. If you're looking for just the tightest show with consistently the most pristine or most potent or most polished voices, you're on the wrong path. Some vocals were less than stellar or stunning, some more modest ones overpowered by the muscular ten-piece instrumental group. This is loose and glib, taking chances, with the attitude and the "look" in L.L. sometimes what it seemed to be more about.
Keyboard player Joe McGinty also plays host, introducing the acts and vocally chiming in later on for the feel-good big finish. David Milone gets into the Dean Martin martini-toasting mood with an ebullient "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" kicked into pretty high gear. Showman Royce Peterson goes fearlessly for broke with a style (singing and wardrobe) that's all flashy splash and sparkle that's way over the top. That was a kick in the head, too (in an enjoyable way for "My Way," by the way). And while "Goldfinger" is not on topic, big-voiced Mike Fornatale was an assertively melodramatic hoot; he dazzled and delighted --- in drag.
For me, the ones who led the Pack in this Rat Pack-inspired presentation were three named Smith. Carlton Smith gets the adrenaline award for his Bobby Womack-modeled soulful and mega-energy take on something most often as either a joyful swinger or a tremulous ballad--- it was "Fly Me to the Moon." In other words, it was a refreshingly different musical flavor from the rest of the night. And the other Smiths: brothers Brendan Jacob Smith (pictured, on vocals) and Damon Smith (deftly taking over the keyboard for simpatico sibling accompaniment) on the lonely ballad "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning." In an impressively unaffected, disarming performance, the sublime high tenor voice radiates with vulnerability and truth and just the right amount of ache to avoid a self-pity party.
And speaking of party, much of the night felt very much like a party indeed. And if not everything was a bullseye hit, well, as one of the included trademark song titles oh-so-succinctly philosophizes: "That's Life."
Venue website: www.JoesPub.
About the Loser's Lounge folks: www.loserslounge.com
Illustration: Cliff Mott