Anyone who likes and appreciates the music that represents the 1950s through to the 1960s is most likely to be aware of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
There will be an awareness, too, of the group moniker that these three men had bestowed upon them by the media: The Rat Pack.
In these days of YouTube, access to their shows is easy and one can appreciate the talent and ease with which they captured their audiences and made them feel part of an on-stage party. So when it comes to recreating those shows for a 21st century audience that, as time thunders relentlessly on, could consider the Rat Pack as vintage entertainment, how to do so successfully (without alienating modern ideals but staying true to the era Messrs Sinatra, Martin and Davis lived in) is a challenge in itself. There’s a danger that such a production could become a pastiche, a veneer-soaked reproduction that simply looks like what has come before.
Mark Halliday of Veritas Entertainment, who produces and directs The Rat Pack – Swingin’ At the Sands is clearly very aware of that fine line. As well as performing as Dean Martin, it is his admiration for and understanding of the original Kings of Cool that means this show admirably captures the feel of what has come before.
Having been personally aware of the Rat Pack since a young age, I have to admit I was somewhat sceptical about seeing another version of such a uniquely-honed trio. But I was not disappointed: audiences familiar with the typical Rat Pack set-up are in for a nice refreshing change here.
Whereas the original shows usually had Dean on first with Sammy’s whirlwind act next before Frank’s conservative approach, with the three subsequently on together for the last act, The Rat Pack – Swingin’ At the Sands plays with that a little and we have, immediately, the three performers on first. Halliday, former West End star, swings his way across the stage with natural laid-back charm as Martin, alongside Jim Whitley belting out a powerhouse performance as Davis and Tom Fox as a deliberately serious and very effective Sinatra. Their solo renditions are soon present and they all command the stage with apparent ease. Yet what these three performers bring is not, Halliday readily admits, an exact lookalike or even perhaps soundalike of the originals, but rather a spot on perfect interpretation – and that’s the magic they bring. The songs are there that you expect, from ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’ to ‘New York, New York’ by way of a visit from ‘Mr Bojangles’, and Fox, Halliday and Whitley sing with such passion and respect for each other as well as for Frank, Dean and Sammy that they simply cannot fail.
Fully-choreographed dance numbers and a seven-piece band, risque jokes and perfectly-timed audience participation, The Rat Pack – Swingin’ At the Sands doesn’t take you back to 1960s Las Vegas, it brings 1960s Las Vegas to you and, for the all-too brief two hours it’s here, it’s more than welcome.
Words and photo, Elliot Thorpe, October 2018