BWW Review: THE RAT PACK-LIVE FROM LAS VEGAS, Theatre Royal Haymarket
The boys are back. Based on an imaginary night at the Sands Hotel, the three musical legends of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. come together to perform a show featuring banter, witty repartee and fantastic songs. Devised and directed by Mitch Sebastian, the well-known show The Rat Pack-Live From Las Vegas now returns to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where it ran back in 2003.
This is very much a tribute show, with little story and content except the songs themselves. Some songs really work, such as Sinatra's sparkling duet with Ella Fitzgerald 'The Lady is a Tramp' and his touching finale of 'My Way'. Others have a feeling of very accomplished karaoke.
The standout performance comes from Garrett Phillips, who is one of three Frank Sinatras. He not only looks very much like Ol' Blue Eyes, but his vocals and intonation are pretty close to the real thing. It is subtle performance and at no point does it feel like Phillips is doing an impression, but he still manages the small hand gestures and laid back attitude that bring the character to life.
David Hayes takes the role of Sammy Davis Jr; he captures some of the energy and playful aspects of the character, but his voice lacks the necessary depth and he should be able to dance at least half as well Davis Jr. could.
Backing singers, the Burelli Sisters, are fictional and so avoid being compared to anyone. All three are great and provide more than just eye candy with lovely harmonies and even tone. Amelia Adams-Pearce is particularly good as Martha Burelli.
2017 marked the centenary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald. This fact is the rather tenuous connection to including a few songs featuring Nicola Emmanuel as the woman herself on stage. Emmanuel is a welcome addition to the show, with some cracking duets with Phillips such as the ever-cheerful 'S'Wonderful'. Her voice has a sultry jazz tone and shows a great balance of power and control. She doesn't sound exactly like Fitzgerald, but she sounds so good it is hard to mind.
The issues mainly come from the bits of the show that surround the songs. The first half stutters a fair amount, with the music having to work hard to carry things along. The jokes and playing around are weak and the cast sometimes seems quite awkward, especially with the gags about race. A reference to Davis Jr. as an 'African Queen' has thankfully been removed. The second act is more successful with all the characters gathering casually on stage to smoke, chat and drink around the piano. It feels more relaxed and spontaneous, with better jokes and smoother transitions.
The staging looks fairly tired; the backdrop looks disconcertingly like a magic eye picture and the screens that occasionally drop onto the stage look flimsy and cheap.
The music is, of course, fantastic, with impeccable performances from the on-stage band led by the incredibly enthusiastic Matthew Freeman. The sound is well balanced throughout the show, with the band never drowning out the performers, which is always a potential problem with such big sounds.
This is an enjoyable show, especially if you love those iconic Big Band sounds, but there is a hollowness to the show that is hard to overlook. The boys may be back in town, but they come with more of a pop than a bang.
Photo Credit: Betty Zapata