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THE IMPOSTERS

 

 

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Paul Walden and Derek Nicol for Flying Entertainment present

 

Christmas with the Rat Pack

Live at the Sands

 

 

Starring Stephen Triffit as Frank Sinatra, Mark Adams as Dean Martin and Giles Terrea as Sammy Davis, Jr.

Director & Choreographer Mitch Sebastian.

Vocal and Music Supervisor Matthew Freeman

 

Wyndams Theatre
 
December 20, 2011 - January 21, 2012

 

Back in the pre-swinging ‘60’s, when booze and cigarettes were freely advertised on TV and in magazines, on the heels of days when movie stars routinely ordered one more for the road and puffed away on silver screens the world over, Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, among them, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were selling out Las Vegas Casinos, like the Sands, where this show is set. The West End has seen many successful runs of Olivier award nominated show, The Rat Pack – Live in Las Vegas, but if you want to take a festive flavoured trip back to a time when jokes about drinking, being a sexist and/or racist were still seen as funny, and hear some great arrangements of songs, undeniably well sung, join ‘ole blue eyes’ (Stephen Triffit) and company for a robustly and accurately enacted, (showgirls and all) trip down memory lane.

When I was a kid in Philly (Philadelphia) in the ‘60’s, members of The Rat Pack were staple fare on TV. Dean Martin hosted a Saturday night variety show, on which showgirls routinely pretended to flirt with him and vice versa, though we all knew he was a very married man. Booze was always part of the picture and it, and Dino were always thought of by the adults watching him around me as fun. His crooning, somewhere between that of operatic Philly boy Mario Lanza and sentimentalised Bing Crosby without any of the lofty intentions of either, made him one of ‘the people.’ The Rat Pack, though middle-aged, were cool, because they defied convention, at the same time as (I now realise) they, Dino and Frank at least, personified it. They were also a serious source of pride to Italian Americans, especially on the East Coast, as Frank was a Jersey Boy, (pre-Frankie Valli) and Dino hailed from Ohio.

Sammy Davis Jr. who began his showbiz career at a very young age, was always something of an enigma. Especially as, even in the ‘60’s, white folk in the know (on the side of justice for all) realised that Davis, like Louie Armstrong before him, enacted a certain amount of stepping and fetching, in order to not only open doors for himself, but also, for other blacks artists waiting in the wings. I met Davis in the late ‘60’s, when I was fourteen, and I wish I could say it was a pleasure (as it would have been later on, when I was more mature) but as it was, with he in purple jumpsuit, boots and huge astrological medallion, and me, green as grass and twice as wet behind the ears, I was embarrassed by the attention he paid to me, as he was then, a ‘groovy’ (a term kids knew was advertising jargon, even then) middle-aged man, and I was a ‘cool’ teenager.

I never owned a Rat Pack album, but I had a tape of The Frank Sinatra Christmas Album, which I only ever listened to one side of. The thought of a Catholic listening to someone with mafia connections (so I thought) singing hymns seemed sacrilegious! If this seasonal version of The Rat Pack taught me anything, it was that Sinatra was a great singer – period! He probably would have sounded good singing a grocery list, and the warmth of his voice on the Christmas hymns deserves another listen. Also, although Davis remains a largely under-rated singer, if he was anything like the man Giles Terea portrays him as being, he was one singularly dynamic performer! You think I’d know, having met the guy. But it’s difficult to assess anyone ‘older’ fairly through the prejudiced eyes of youth, especially since when I saw him, Davis lip-synched his two hits of the time, ‘The Candyman’ and ‘I Gotta Be Me,’ a 45 of which he then presented me with, as the winner of a dance contest! I came to regret not asking him for his autograph, and, losing track of that rare 45! At the time, I shuddered at the potential damage to my reputation by association, but I’ve since come to admire Davis as a champion of Civil Rights, a song, and, individuality.  

In this show, as Terea portrays him, Davis seems fresher and bolder than his older white counterparts, and everything he does seems newer. But it was more than the fact that Davis was of a younger generation than Dino and Frank, and so, someone a younger person might more easily have identified with at the time that inspired me most. Seeing Terea’s wonderful performance as Davis, made me wish someone intelligent would write a fitting play about the man, his causes and conviction, and, his musical career. If such a show was ever staged, and it’s long overdue, than Terea would be great in the lead! Thank you Giles! You really lit up the stage every time you appeared and personified Sammy Davis Jr.!

Sinatra is such a legend that I doubt anyone will ever let him rest in peace. We just keep resurrecting him, with varying levels of success. But this embodiment, by Stephen Triffit is very successful, so much so that I eventually started more or less swinging along with the songs in league with other audience members in front of me who’d been grooving along with them practically from the outset. I also found myself genuinely moved by Triffit’s singing on more than once occasion, most notably on his/Sinatra’s singularly classic rendition of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.’

Dean Martin was more than a household name, he was in so many living rooms each week that he almost became a member of the family. True, Dino was a good natured drinker on air, but he was also a fine crooner, who always made listening to him sing an enjoyable experience. Together with Sinatra, Martin brought a grand age of casino glamour to a close. Davis was the next generation, though many a well established performer struggled to re-find their feet in the late ’60s. By then, the glamorous hey-day of acts like The Rat Pack had ended. But one of the things that makes seeing any version of The Rat Pack a fun experience is remembering when.

The band for this show plays every number with verve and punch and especially comes into their element on timeless Nelson Riddle/Sinatra collaborations like Cole Porter’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, as befits such a cool ensemble strutting their individual hits, before things get out and out festive in Act II. The showgirl side of the production is nicely covered by the blonde, brunette and red-headed Burelli sisters, Helevitia (Soophia Foroughi), Martha (Frankie Jenna) and Connie (Grace Holdstock) who dance alluringly before each singer in turn and perform duets with them as needed, offering a suitably feathered, heeled and coiffed eyeful for those in the audience inclined to gawk in wonder at such glamour-gals, thanks in part to Chris Woods’ evocatively appropriate costuming, with gents donned in stylish grey Sharkskin suits and black tie, striped legged tuxes.

Sean Cavanaugh’s stage setting looks very festive with its’ giant decorated Christmas tree and lighted musicians stands - very ‘60’s Vegas! This is a show audience members can openly enjoy, especially on occasions when Adams as Martin addresses them directly, seemingly, in cheerily friendly, spontaneous banter, as Dino was wont to do. But Sinatra, Martin and Davis were all men who were seriously good at what they did and enjoyed doing it and that’s infectious, or ‘Amore’ as Dino would croon.

This show’s designed to add notes of joviality to your holidays till January 8, 2012, continuing along more customary Rat Pack lines for the rest of its run. Merry Christmas one and all! And thanks to Dino, Frank and Sammy for the priceless memories and to Adams, Triffit and Terea for faithfully reviving them!

 


Wyndams Theatre

Charing Cross Road, London
WC2H 0DA


Box Office Opening Hours: Mon – Sat. 10am – 7:45pm

Box Office: 0844 482 5120

http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/Tickets/ChristmasRatPack.asp

 
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