With the passing of Frank Sinatra, three generations have felt the passing of an era. Sinatra and "pallies" Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. defined swing and swagger, crooning, cocktails and casinos. Labeled "The Rat Pack," the legendary trio had enough charm, humor and appeal to swell into today's neo-lounge movement that has attempted to resurrect its style.
While nothing short of witchcraft could bring back the real McCoy, Curtis-Michaels Productions is trying to conjure their spirits with the live show The Rat Pack . . . Reflections of Frank, Dean and Sammy. This traveling band of impersonators has been knocking audiences dead for several years in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and now plans to play Tempe on Friday, August 7, and Saturday, August 8, its first performance outside of the casino cities.
The show is touted as capturing the energy and spectacle of the late '50s and early '60s, the Rat Pack's prime era. The core performers--Duke Hazlett as Frank, Dave Michaels as Dean and Johnny Davis Jr. (no relation) as Sammy--have forged a fortune out of this virtual experience. Like Frank, Duke is the chairman of the board here, with more than 30 years at depicting "the voice."
"I was in a boys' choir that did film and television, and we actually rehearsed and performed with Sinatra. I was only about 10 years old at the time. Later on, I was invited to parties and people wanted me to do Sinatra. I lived in Burbank and was around Hollywood, hanging around the infamous Ciro's club where all the great acts performed," he says. Sinatra himself supposedly approved of the replication, as Duke passionately tells it: "He was always nice to me all the time, and he told me to remember that he was still the Chairman--but I could be the vice chairman."
The three stars are hardly dead ringers for the originals, but co-producer and Dean Martin caricature Dave Michaels insists that the voices and comic timing are far more important. "We first had a couple of Dean Martins and they looked more like him, sounded like him, but they couldn't do the comedy part, and if you're going to do The Rat Pack, you've got to have a feel for the comedy routines." Rat Pack bench warmer (and comedy writer) Joey Bishop once said that "Dean was such a talent as a comedian that it's a shame that God gave him a singing voice."
As a result, Michaels, a comedian for 30 years, ended up in his own show. His makeup takes an hour and a half, but once in character, Michaels pours out such sotted witticisms as, "I'm so proud of my mother-in-law. She's 82 years old and she doesn't need glasses--she drinks right out of the bottle!" Those that expect Michaels to booze it up like Dino may be disappointed that his glass holds a placebo resembling bourbon--a detail that Michaels claims is accurate. "Dean really didn't drink that much. It was just an act--a funny bit that worked for him. I mean, he had drinks once in a while but nothing like what was portrayed onstage."
For the road, the big-band accompaniment of the past has been reduced to computer chips. The four-piece band includes the conductor and employs two synthesizers (one for strings, the other for brass), a drummer and a bassist. The cost-effective package led by Artie Schroeck is supposed to re-create the sounds of great arrangers like Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and Don Costa. Also included in the production is a six-woman entourage known as the Copa girls--long-legged ladies in plumes, butterfly wings and a high ratio of skin to sequin.
Still, despite all the flash and funnies, the focus is on the musical selections. Johnny Davis performs such Sammy standards as "Candy Man" and "Mr. Bojangles" and, later, a duet of "Sam's Song" with "Dino," whose solo numbers include the favorites "Everybody Loves Somebody" and "That's Amore," slurred appealingly from Michaels' counterfeit lips.
Fans of Ol' Blue Eyes are treated to a solid selection of big city fare such as "I'll Take Manhattan," "My Kind of Town," "On Broadway" and, of course, "New York, New York." Duke does it his way, which he regards as perfectly Frank--during "Luck Be a Lady," he even feigns rolling dice in front of a replica of the Las Vegas Sands Hotel sign. Thus is the torch passed to a new generation.
"The Rat Pack . . . Reflections of Frank, Dean and Sammy" is performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, August 7; and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 8, at the Red River Music Hall, Mill and Washington in Tempe. Tickets are $25.50 in advance, $27.50 the day of the show. 829-6779 (Red River), 503-5555 (Dillard's).