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Review: ‘The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean’
Musical proves they sure don’t make ’em like the Rat Pack anymore
Son-of-a-gun! It works!
Having been a long time fan of the original Rat Pack – Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop, for those of you too young to remember – I approached “The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean” at Detroit’s City Theatre with some trepidation. Would the performers capture the “feel” – the flavor – of these legendary stars? Would they even remotely LOOK like the characters they are playing? And would they have the pipes – the voices – to pull this off?
With but a few notable exceptions, the answers are “oh, yeah,” “they sure do” and a most resounding “hell yes.” In other words, my fears were groundless!
When you walk into the City Theatre and the lights go down, it takes only seconds for you to believe that you’ve stepped back 40 years into the past. You’re now at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas where the hottest ticket in town is once again playing to a capacity crowd. They sing, they joke, they dance – and they make it all look so easy. But more importantly, it’s obvious these men are having the time of their lives – and they’re letting us share the experience with them!
That, and their talent, was the real secret behind the success of the Rat Pack. These were stars at the top of the entertainment food chain – seemingly the best of friends – and their frat-boy, somewhat naughty antics played well to the audiences of that era.
But would that same politically incorrect act play well in the early 21st century? Once again, my answer – with great gusto – is yes!
That’s because the jokes they told were never meant to be hurtful. And unlike many of the comedians who followed them, their goal was to never to shock their audiences, but to entertain them.
And that they did! Sure, they poked fun at Sammy’s ethnicity and religion – how many black Jews were there, after all? – but just as many Italian jokes were tossed at Frank and Dean. And buxom women didn’t escape their notice, either. But it was all meant to be good, clean fun – and the audiences back then understood that.
And, apparently, so too did the audience at last week’s opening night performance!
“The Tribute” opens with the voice of God – who sounds amazingly like Buddy Hackett – who tells us that the Rat Pack has been given one last chance to perform their celebrated act. And a heck of an act it is! Dean still tosses back his drinks, Sammy stands amidst a swirl of cigarette smoke, Frank is still the Chairman of the Board and Joey tags along for the ride. And their tunes are lovingly recreated, complimented by a rich-sounding, Detroit-based 10-piece orchestra that kicks butt and never looks back.
While the music and the comedy are all time-proven and top notch, it’s the performers who will either make or break this show.
Andy DiMino channels Dean Martin from start to finish. The minute he grabs his drink, tilts his head and gives the audience that trademarked smile, you’re convinced he’s the real thing.
Equally enjoyable is the show’s writer and co-producer Sandy Hackett who brings Joey Bishop to life. Bishop’s position in the Rat Pack is often debated, but Hackett proves why the man was such an important part of the act.
Although Doug Starks masters the vocal and physical mannerisms of Sammy Davis Jr., he seemingly lacks his dancing prowess. It’s disappointing when a number cries out for the star’s patented moves – such as with “Mr. Bojangles” – and Starks fails to deliver.
But most puzzling is Tom Tiratto who plays Frank Sinatra. While he certainly sounds like Sinatra, he seems terribly uncomfortable – and dare I say it, stiff – anytime he’s not singing. Every time I saw Sinatra, I was always aware that The Chairman was “in on the joke” – here, Tiratto seems frustrated that the jokes are even being told!
The red-sequined and very amply endowed Stacey Nicole makes a much appreciated appearance as special guest Marilyn Monroe. I only hope the lucky, but elderly man she “played with” in the audience is still alive today to recall that encounter!
“The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean” City Theatre, 2301 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tue.-Sun. Extended through July 17. $35.50 & $39.50. 313-872-1000. www.nederlanderdetroit.com.
The Bottom Line: A fun-filled evening of good old fashioned entertainment that uptight, humorless and politically correct folk might want to avoid.
Tibdits: Theater News from Around Town
Geoffrey Sherman exits BoarsHead; search for replacement is underway
Michigan’s professional theater community was stunned by the news last week of Geoffrey Sherman’s departure as artistic director of Lansing’s BoarsHead Theatre.
According to a press release issued June 9, Sherman left to become the producing artistic director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, Alabama. Although he assumed those duties last week, his contract allows him to remain in Lansing for two months to assist with the transition. He will also continue to direct the upcoming revival of “The Rocky Horror Show” at Meadow Brook Theatre.
“This was a very difficult choice,” explained Sherman, who arrived at the BoarsHead only two years ago. “I love the BoarsHead Theatre and Lansing, but this was an offer I could not refuse. In fact, I would not have been offered this position in Montgomery had it not been for my two years at BoarsHead. Lansing should feel proud of BoarsHead’s excellent reputation nationally.”
The recently announced 2005/06 BoarsHead season will continue as planned. Sherman will handle the casting for the first few shows of the season while the theater’s board of directors launches a national search for his replacement.
“We are deeply sorry to lose Geoffrey but we understand his decision,” said Paul Shaheen, chair of the BoarsHead board of directors. “He has done an extremely fine job during the last two years in achieving artistic excellence and putting the theatre on a better financial footing. Because he has built a strong foundation for the future, we are able to move forward confidently. We wish him the very best. We are certain we will have several strong candidates for this position, just as we did when we hired Geoffrey.”