East End Theater Review: The Rat Pack Is Back

Straight from fabulous Las Vegas, The Rat Pack is Back hits the stage at Gateway with resounding waves of laughter and soul-shaking music. The Rat Pack is Back pays tribute to the famous nightclub act at the Sands hotel and casino in Las Vegas, and four talented actors manage to recreate the magical chemistry of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joey Bishop.

It’s 1960 in postwar America, and a new generation of entertainers was beginning to emerge. The “Chairman of the Board” of the Rat Pack is Frank Sinatra – cool, charismatic, a little dangerous, and a real crooner. Portraying the famous Sinatra is Robbie Howard, and he sounds so much like Sinatra it will send chills down your spine. You’ll find yourself singing along to familiar Sinatra tunes “Luck be a Lady,” “That’s Amore,” and “New York, New York.” Howard also captures Sinatra’s unique dry wit, causing more than a few peals of laughter from yours truly.

As the soulful Sammy Davis, Jr., Kenny Jones truly lives up to his characters zest for life, movement and rhythm. The Kansas Gospel singer nearly vibrates with excitement whether he’s belting out a Sammy tune or busting a move with effortless swagger.

The heartthrob known as Dean Martin is played by Johnny Edwards, who captures the essence of Dean Martin so well I thought my mother – who grew up listening to these guys – was going to crack her face she was smiling so hard. In fact, as I looked around me, I noticed all the ladies were as enamored with Dean/Johnny as my mother and myself were.

Comedian Dennis Blair, whose timing is impeccable, cleverly portrays Joey Bishop, the protégé of Rodney Dangerfield, and all of his jokes may have bordered on cheesy (or politically incorrect) rather than funny, it helped to bring us back in time. We can see he’s the odd man out of the odd and hilarious pairing of two Italians, an African American, and a Jew in 1960s America. The quartet defined the new American Cool, and it was funny.

The crowning glory of this production – and the glue holding together all the spectacular talent Gateway has brought in for our viewing pleasure – is the 16-piece orchestra known as The Black Tie Affair, led by music director Lon Bronson. Based in New York, the Emmy-nominated orchestra helps bring to life an unforgettable musical era, and centers on these four men in the prime of their careers.

As the characters live out a night in their 1960s show, we are taken back in time with them, and the music is classic. You can’t help but sing along when prompted (and, sometimes when you’re not) snap your fingers along with the beat, and you certainly can’t help that your feet tapping along as Sammy Davis Jr. belts out a soulful tune. Watching Dean Martin sip his whiskey and smoke his cigarette on stage, all the while keeping up his part of the tune is hilarious.

I was sad when it was over – we were all having so much fun!

You can catch The Rat Pack is Back playing at the Gateway Playhouse through July 14. Next in line for Gateway is 9 to 5 July 18 – August 4, and Phantom of the Opera August 22 – Sept 9.

Visit www.gatewayplayhouse.com for ticket information.

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