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THE ARTS
Buddy Hackett's son brings Rat Pack tribute to S.F.

By Dan Pine

Every night before taking the stage, Sandy Hackett dons a sleek black tuxedo. Not the typical garb of most entertainers these days, but it suits Hackett just fine.

Every night before taking the stage, Sandy Hackett dons a sleek black tuxedo. Not the typical garb of most entertainers these days, but it suits Hackett just fine.

“When you’re a kid, you think it’s the James Bond thing,” he says. “Now I love wearing it. I do my own bow tie like I watched my dad do for years.”

“Dad” was the late Jewish comedian/ entertainer Buddy Hackett. But the younger Hackett didn’t stray from the family business. These days, he stars in “The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean.” Tuxedoes, a must.

The show is now running at San Francisco’s Post Street Theater.

Written and co-created by Hackett, the show recreates the legendary 1960 concerts headlined by Sinatra, Davis, Bishop and Martin at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.

Frank Sinatra himself dubbed the concerts “the Summit of Cool.”

Closing in on half-a-century later, the Rat Pack still reigns as the coolest. In “Tribute,” Hackett plays Joey Bishop, someone he has no trouble portraying: He grew up referring to the famed comedian as Uncle Joey.

“Joey and my dad were good friends,” says Hackett. “He taught me to box.”

Bishop, at 87 the last surviving member of the Rat Pack, gave Hackett his blessing to pursue the show and to portray him on stage. “I thought I could play him,” adds Hackett. “I’m Jewish, dark hair, receding hairline.”

As a longtime resident of Las Vegas, he also has the required level of moxie to pull off the audacious notion of recreating such a seminal moment in American pop culture. “I called Joey,” says Hackett, “and he said, ‘It’s all about attitude, you know what I mean? You know what I mean?’”

Hackett, 49, first got the idea for the show after nearly being cast as Bishop for an HBO film about the Rat Pack. He found the film disappointing, but it gave him the idea for the tribute.

“There was so much source material,” recalls Hackett of the writing process. “It was relatively easy. Then we had to pick the songs and decide what comedy bits to use.”

The songs Hackett chose come not only from the precise Rat Pack era (late ’50s to early ’60s) but from later in the stars’ careers, including “Fly Me To The Moon,” “New York, New York,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “That’s Amore,” “Come Fly With Me,” and others, all backed by a swingin’ 12-piece orchestra.

He also found a role for his father, who two years before he died provided the voice of God urging the Rat Packers “to do it one more time.”

One of Hackett’s more fascinating discoveries about the original concerts was how pivotal a role Bishop played. As the comedian of the bunch, he had to keep pace with the far more iconic figures of Sinatra, Dean and Davis.

“Joey took them on and whooped their ass every night,” says Hackett. “It was like a heavyweight fight. Joey had the bravado.”

Bishop, born Joseph Abraham Gottleib, was the Philadelphia native who went on to fame and fortune with his own sitcom and talk show in the ’60s.

Hackett grew up in Beverly Hills, not only at the knee of Bishop but of his own famous father, who died two years ago. “Buddy Hackett was the smartest, funniest, human being I ever met,” he says. “An incredible father and my dearest friend.”

The Hackett household was also a kosher home. Sandy Hackett had a bar mitzvah, and today he and his wife send their child to a Jewish nursery school in Las Vegas. “My kid knows more Hebrew than both of us,” he says.

Hackett went on to build a career as an actor and nightclub owner, but he’s most proud of the Rat Pack show. It opened at the very retro Greek Isle Hotel in Vegas back in 2002. The show built slowly, but has been selling-out for months now, and also played in Detroit.

Hackett knows no one can fully recreate the actual magic of the Rat Pack (Sinatra at the time was the No. 1 box office star, the No. 1 recording artist and No. 1 live attraction), but he believes his show is a worthy successor to the real thing-a-ding-ding.

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