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THEATER REVIEW

The Rat Pack swings again

The shenanigans and songs of Frank, Sammy and Dino are re-created in 'Live at the Sands.'

December 07, 2007|Charlotte Stoudt | Special to The Times

It was the ultimate boys' night out, except the party went nonstop for a month: In 1960, the Rat Pack rolled into Vegas to make the heist movie "Ocean's Eleven" and have a little fun. Frank Sinatra and posse -- Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop -- would wake up late in the afternoon, do two sets of songs and comedy at the Sands Hotel's Copa Room, then start filming in the wee small hours of the morning. "Ocean's" was a smash, and those cabaret sessions became the stuff of entertainment legend. Never had so many been so cool with seemingly so little effort.

Now "The Rat Pack: Live at the Sands," a glossy, affable re-creation of those celebrated concerts, comes to L.A.'s Wilshire Theatre after more than 1,500 performances in London. Director-choreographer Mitch Sebastian has taken liberties with the facts: He loses two of the original Pack (Bishop and Lawford), and time frames vary, but aficionados will find plenty to enjoy, including the famous drink trolley (lunch) and sly digs at the Klan.

Let's admit it, the audience is wary when Stephen Triffitt first appears onstage, backed by a sweep of illuminated steps and a terrific 15-piece orchestra (the musical direction is by Andy Rumble). He's here to conjure the Chairman of the Board, and we're awfully possessive of The Voice many of us fell in or out of love to. Not an entrance for the faint-hearted, but Triffitt waits for the verdict with elegance. In the meantime, it's up to Sammy Davis Jr. (David Hayes) to break the ice and for Dean Martin (Nigel Casey) to add the Jack Daniel's. They win over the crowd with irresistible versions of "Once in a Lifetime," "That's Amore," some tap dancing and plenty of goofing. (Martin reports his mother-in-law "is 85 but doesn't need glasses. She just sucks the scotch right through the label. I worship the ground that's coming to her.")

The Burelli Sisters (Anna Carmichael, Lucie Florentine, Lucy Thatcher) provide the gams, tuneful backup and some generic sashay. Their awkward slink may be intentional, since the hot blonds at the Copa apparently were not the best hoofers.

Tributes are odd occasions. They can either make their objects of veneration feel even more absent or present in spirit if not in letter. "The Rat Pack" does some of both. Sebastian and crew create an easy vibe, and the period choreography sells the illusion of time travel. (Costumer Chris Woods' ferociously cut '60s suits add to the atmosphere; I've never seen a tuxedo fit a man as well as Triffitt's does.) Even the audience adds authenticity; on opening night, Davis' widow, Altovise, and blues star Linda Hopkins were in the crowd.

As Sinatra, Triffitt looks the part, much of his phrasing is beautiful, and he can certainly build a song ("New York, New York," "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Mack the Knife" are among the evening's standouts). Yet as Sinatra himself once said, "An audience is like a broad. If you're indifferent, Endsville."

While Hayes and Casey don't fully capture their assigned personas, they seize on an essential aspect. Hayes channels Davis' almost superhuman buzz; Casey's smile signals Martin's faintly aggressive indolence. Triffitt has Sinatra's contained wit, his offhand cool but perhaps not enough of his passion. He's singing, but somehow it's not quite to us.

The holidays engage our nostalgia as no other season does. Like "The Rat Pack," they promise access to the best of what's come and gone. But time is the velvet rope none of us can get around -- the very barrier that gives the past its value. And no one sang that beautiful pain like Sinatra.

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'The Rat Pack: Live at the Sands'

Where: Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Dec. 16

Price: $25 to $65

Contact: (213) 365-3500 or www.BroadwayLA.org

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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