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Tonight through Sunday evening, Broadway Series South will ring-a-ding-ding in the New Year, 2009, with TRP Entertainment, LLC’s powerhouse production of The Rat Pack Is Back: A Tribute to Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC. This frisky musical revue, a Las Vegas-style show written with warmth and wit by Sandy Hackett and directed and choreographed with great gusto by Ben Lockey, stars four charismatic Rat Pack impersonators, backed by an animated 12-piece onstage orchestra that really knows how to swing.
The Rat Pack Is Back is a sassy salute to a quartet of showbiz legends who were Las Vegas royalty in the 1950s and 1960s. Summoned back to Earth by the Voice of God (the late Buddy Hackett) for one more show in the Copa Room of the old Sands Hotel, which was demolished in 1996, Frank, Sammy, Joey, and Dean proceed to have a high old time, in several senses of that word.
Musical director/pianist Richard Nelson Hall; stand-up bass player John Simonetti; drummer John Hanks; saxophonists Jack Murray, Larry Suvak, Wayne Leechford, and Janice Lipson; trumpet players Bobby Hinson, Mike Mole, and Dennis deJong; and trombonists Steve Wilfong and Steve Truckenbrod open the show with a rousing overture. Then Danny Grewen as Frank, Kenny Jones as Sammy, and Johnny Edwards as Dean start the musical ball rolling with zesty version of “Where or When” from Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s 1937 musical Babes in Arms. (Grewen substituted for Sinatra impersonator Brian Duprey on Dec. 30th and 31st.)
After a brief knee-slapping PG-rated routine by Tom Wallek as Joey, who leavens his comic shtick about marriage and romance with anachronistic but spot-on references to the love drug Viagra, the movie Brokeback Mountain, and the popular TV series “Dancing with the Stars,” the terrific trio of Dean Martin (Edwards), Sammy Davis, Jr. (Jones), and Frank Sinatra (Grewen) – highballs and cigarettes in hand – take turns charming a receptive Broadway Series South audience. Their nifty 90-minute show, performed without intermission, received a fervent standing ovation at its conclusion.
Johnny Edwards as Dean was mildly amusing when he sang “When You’re Drinking” to the tune of “When You’re Smiling” (Mark Fisher, Joe Goodwin, and Larry Shay); but he scored a home run with Martin’s 1953 hit “That’s Amoré” (Harry Warren and Jack Brooks) and followed it up with silky smooth versions of “Memories Are Made of This” (Terry Gilkyson, Richard Dehr, and Frank Miller) and “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You” (Russ Morgan, Larry Stock, and James Cavanaugh).
Kenny Jones started out his show-stopping set as Sammy by singing the first line from Davis’ hit “The Candy Man” (Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley), from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, offstage; then he really wowed the paying customers with his vibrant vocal and dynamic drum solo on “That Old Black Magic” (Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer). A rafter-rattling rendition of “What Kind of Fool Am I?” (also Bricusse and Newley) from Newley’s 1962 musical Stop the World — I Want to Get Off and a bittersweet solo and softshoe on “Mr. Bojangles” (Jerry Jeff Walker) made Jones a crowd favorite.
In-between those two stemwinders came a brief comic interlude with Johnny Edwards as Dean as they gently feuded over whether “Sam’s Song” (Jack Elliott and Lew Quadling) should be rechristened “Dean’s Song.” Then it was time for Danny Grewen to saunter onto the stage for soulful takes on “Come Fly with Me” (Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn), “Fly Me to the Moon” (Bart Howard), “You Make Me Feel So Young” (Josef Myrow and Mack Gordon), “A Foggy Day (in London Town)” (George and Ira Gershwin) – all as deliciously dry as the driest dry martini.
Rollicking Rat Pack versions of “Luck Be a Lady” (Frank Loesser), from the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls, and “The Lady Is a Tramp,” from Babes in Arms , were followed by Grewen’s stirring solos on Francis Albert Sinatra’s signature songs “My Way” (Claude François, Jacques Revaux, and Paul Anka) and the “(Theme from) New York, New York” (John Kander and Fred Ebb) from the 1977 Martin Scorsese film New York, New York. And Danny Grewen as Frank, Kenny Jones as Sammy, and Johnny Edwards as Dean closed the evening on a high note with a brassy three-way version of the 1926 hit “The Birth of the Blues” (Ray Henderson and Buddy G. DeSylva and Lew Brown) that provided the icing on the delightful musical cake that is The Rat Pack Is Back.
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