BWW Review: Winter Park Playhouse's THE RAT PACK LOUNGE Hits All of the Classic Crooner Notes
Your last name doesn't have to end in a vowel for you to know that there has ever been a cooler group of people to walk the earth than the Rat Pack. In The Winter Park Playhouse's latest show, THE RAT PACK LOUNGE, Frank, Dean, and Sammy (do they even need last names?) get a second chance to bring their unique brand of cool back to their home away from home, the Vegas Strip. The show runs through February 14th, and while every performance is completely sold out, WPP does occasionally have cancellations, so check with the theatre's box office for available performances.
In the show, God sends the three legendary showmen back to Earth on New Year's Eve 1999 in order to save the life of a suicidal bar owner whose entire life has been hamstrung by an off-handed compliment Frank gave him as a boy. The plot serves as little more than a framing device to bring to life the trio's most famous songs, but when the tunes are this iconic, and the performers this talented, who cares? While the show's formula is a well-worn one, it's safe to assume that with this show, every time a crooner sings, an angel gets its wings.
The cast of five is exceptionally talented. Todd S. Mummert plays the depressed bar owner, Vic Candelino, who, after being dumped by his girlfriend, is forced to sell the lounge he inherited from his father. Deejay Young plays his employee Bobby Goldberg, whose body is quickly taken over by Sammy Davis Jr. Real Estate magnate William Saunders' cowboy exterior gives way to the smoothness of Frank Sinatra (played by Kevin Kelly), chauffeur Jeorge Rodrigues, played by Christopher Alan Norton, is overcome by the spirit of Dean Martin, and finally, the body of Saunders' assistant Katherine Kerr (Sarah-lee Dobbs) is inhabited by the sultry Angie (don't worry Angie Dickinson is still alive). Each heavenly outcast uses the lessons in the classic songs to reassure Vic that the best is yet to come.
Despite some Opening Night mic issues, the five create some ingeniously tight harmonies that make songs that are in some cases nearly seven decades old feel fresh and exciting. They each get to try their hand at classic ditties like "High Hopes," "Come Fly with Me," "Young at Heart," "Ain't that a Kick in the Head," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "My Way," "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime," "I've Got You Under My Skin," and many, many more.
The characters, as thin as they are, effectively evoke the personas of their real-life counterparts, without diverting into caricatures; although with all of Dean's drinking and one-liners, he's pretty close. That being typed, while his one-liners don't always land, Norton brings the goofy charm that made Martin one of Hollywood's favorite comedic straight men. The script by James Hindman and Ray Roderick might not be the most original thing you're likely to see, but it does play heavily on the larger than life personalities of the Rat Pack and their friends (poor Peter Lawford), which brings a few extra comedic moments.
Director and Choreographer Rob Winn Anderson keeps the action moving quickly, and he effectively guides his cast through a show that, despite a minimal amount of plot, presents a surprisingly touching message. Musical Director Chris Leavy expertly leads the five-person ensemble through John Glaudini's arrangements. Each song has the requisite levels of smoothness and sincerity to keep you from missing their classic original versions.
No matter the decade in which you were born, if you love music, this is a show you won't want to miss. While the show is sold-out, I highly suggest that you contact the folks at Winter Park Playhouse to see if any seats become available between now and Valentine's Day, February 14th. You can visit their website winterparkplayhouse.org or call them at 407-645-0145. And if they don't have any tickets available for THE RAT PACK LOUNGE, think ahead this time, and book your trip to A DAY IN HOLLYWOOD/A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE, which is set for a four-week run, beginning on March 5th.
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