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Rat Pack ring-a-ding-ding
Tribute will hit high notes with
some retro-camp fans
By Chris Jones
The Rat Pack tribute show that arrived this week at the Royal George Theatre comes directly from Las Vegas. But it's not from the Cirque du Soleil or the Wynn Hotel. No, this old-line puppy comes to us from the Greek Isles Casino, a depressing, low-roller hang you'll find tucked away on beautiful Convention Center Drive.
When I was last there, it was the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino. And then, I believe, the place was briefly and unhappily owned by World Wrestling Entertainment. In short, it's the kind of tired, sad-sack Vegas joint that Frank, Dean, Sammy and Joey would have deemed entirely unworthy of so much as a spit from their Strip-bound limousine.
Ah well, not everyone wants to drop three hundred on a room or a hundred bucks on contortionists. These old-Vegas, two-for-one, free-to-gamblers, celebrity-impersonating shows are becoming endangered species. And this one even shares a producer -- Vegas icon Dick Feeney -- with the Flying Elvi, no less. So what's not to like, retro-camp fans?
Assuming your expectations are firmly in line with the parentage data, there's actually quite a bit to like here. I've seen at least a half dozen of these Rat Pack evocations over the years, and I'd put this one near the top.
"The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean" has one major asset -- excellent, classic comic material, professionally delivered. The show is the brainchild of Sandy Hackett, son of the late Buddy Hackett and a guy who actually knows Joey Bishop, and this closed world, very, very well.
It was Bishop, of course, who wrote most of the material for the famous Sands shows. Lines that are forever associated with Dean Martin were actually penned by Bishop. And Hackett, clearly, is on a mission to stick Bishop back in the center of the Rat Pack mythology. For sure, I've never seen a Rat Pack show where someone playing Bishop takes the last bow. But in this romantic revision of history, the Chairman of the Board happily steps aside.
"Tribute" has a lot of different casts. But to kick off the Chicago engagement, Hackett himself has shown up, playing the role of Bishop. Laconic, deadpan and shrewd, he is exceptionally funny, leavening classic Bishop material with top-shelf gags about George Ryan and other local matters of the moment. He's the main reason to buy a ticket.
You wouldn't say that David De'Costa (as Frank Sinatra), Kenny Jones (as Sammy Davis Jr.) or Bobby Mayo Jr. (as Martin) are dead ringers for their subjects or master re-creators of their respective vocal sounds. But they're all at least competent singers backed up a hefty live horn section that seems to be enjoying itself. And De'Costa actually evokes some of Sinatra's youthful insouciance, which works very nicely because we're supposed to be journeying back to the Camelot days of 1960. Most Sinatra tributes drip with stolid veneration. Young De'Costa doesn't try as darn hard to do the man justice. And that's a blessed relief.
Jones is a genial entertainer with snatches of that controlled Davis staccato if not the underlying pain. And Mayo -- whose Martin is an offbeat piece of work -- adds to the weird but nonetheless enjoyable air of comic befuddlement. On Sunday afternoon -- a performance attended by paying customers rather than first-night flunkies -- people seemed to love every last one of the 90 available minutes. So recommend away, you hotel concierges. To the right guest.
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