By L. N. Harrison // Staff Writer
I went into the performance of The Rat Pack is Back! not really knowing what to expect from it; I purposely didn’t research the show beforehand, because I wanted to be surprised rather than to build up my expectations (which were already fairly high considering the Symphony was involved).
To put some perspective to this, I grew up listening to the Rat Pack – or as they preferred to be called ‘The Summit’ – particularly to Frank Sinatra, and I’ve always loved the music. I don’t know exactly what it is about it: The brass section, the big orchestration or maybe the level of talent and charisma possessed by the performers who really made it big. Regardless, there’s just something that makes me smile and tap my foot. For that reason, when the opportunity afforded itself to attend this performance at the Schermerhorn, I jumped at the chance.
The performance opened with the Nashville Symphony brass section perfectly performing a medley of old Rat Pack standards while a projector screen behind the band played footage of the demolition of the Sands Hotel and Casino — where the Rat Pack frequented for shows — right when the old building was collapsing to the ground. And then it all suddenly reversed, rebuilding the structure before the audience’s eyes. With what happened next, it’s almost as if time itself had reversed, because the next thing I knew, Frank Sinatra was walking out onto stage singing “Luck Be A Lady.”
Obviously, the rational part of my mind knew that this couldn’t be Frank Sinatra, as he had died back in 1998, yet the performer (Brian Duprey) who walked out on the stage — while he didn’t look exactly like Sinatra — was dressed just like him, and above all else, sounded just like him. It was so perfect, in fact, that when he came out onto the stage singing, there were even people behind me who were debating over whether the performer was lip-syncing or actually singing.
It was, in fact, the actor singing.
The eerie degree to which he had captured not only Sinatra’s singing voice but his mannerisms and speaking voice as well was astonishing. I’ve seen old clips of Sinatra talking to crowds at shows and listened to the live recordings, and though he didn’t look as much like Sinatra as some, he certainly had everything else.
The premise of the performance, as the audience was informed at the start, is that the year was 1960, and it was Sinatra’s birthday, hence why three other members of the Rat Pack soon made their appearances: singers Dean Martin (Drew Anthony) and Sammy Davis, Jr. (Kenny Jones) as well as comedian Joey Bishop (Tom Wallek).
Throughout the show, the Rat Pack members performed some of their greatest hits, solo and in various duos and groups.
Martin sang “That’s Amore” and “Volare,” all the while joking with the audience and the conductor of the band and playing up the same act that the real-life Dean Martin did of being a stage alcoholic (each time he entered the stage with a glass, the glass seemed to keep getting bigger and bigger). What’s more, by appearance, the man who portrayed Martin could easily have been his brother. The resemblance was so uncanny, and the vocals, particularly on “That’s Amore” and on some of the later numbers, were impressive to say the least.
Davis performed several including “A Lot of Livin’ To Do” and “What Kind of Fool Am I?” both with which I was unfamiliar, but I can attest that Jones certainly captured the movements and essence of Davis as he danced his way across the stage and down into the audience.
As for Bishop, I had very little idea of who he was when I read his name on the screen at the beginning except to know that he was a comedian and that he was considered a member of the Rat Pack, but — without fail — he managed to make the audience laugh every time he appeared. Some of his material seemed as though it would have been straight out of the real-life Bishop’s old act, whereas others were hilariously current, winking at the fourth wall as several of the performers did throughout the night.
Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board, performed several of his greatest hits including “I’ve Got The World On A String,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and “You Make Me Feel So Young,” the entire time being just as interactive with the audience as the other performers. The crowning moment for him, of all the songs he sang, was no doubt “That’s Life” where the wind-up at the end was so very like the recordings I’ve listened to for most of my life that I would almost have sworn it was taken straight from the record.
Over the course of two hours, there wasn’t a dead moment in the entire show, which was impressive seeing as every member of the Rat Pack has been gone for some time. The performers engaged the audience, asking them questions, going out into the rows, involving them in the jokes, sometimes even creating jokes around the interactions. It truly was as though time had been rewound, and the opportunity had been granted to see the Rat Pack as they were in their prime.
At the end, the entire Rat Pack came out on the stage again, joining together to sing “I Love Being Here With You,” “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” “New York, New York” (complete with the four of them forming a kickline) and “The Lady Is A Tramp.” For the grand finale, they sang “My Kind Of Town,” the lyrics adapted with ‘Old Nashville’ in the place of ‘Chicago,’ wrapping up an entire performance that seemed to have been crafted solely for this audience despite being a show in its 17th year and having toured all of the U.S. and abroad. The audience’s claps, whistles, and cheers even called them back to perform the last number a final time before truly closing the show.
While there are many people — even current singers such as Michael Bublé and Harry Connick, Jr. — who have performed and continue to perform quite a few songs from this era and from these artists, there was something about the performers and the band that was so spectacular and something about the experience that was so singularly surreal that the show could have gone on forever, and it wouldn’t have been long enough.
To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email firstname.lastname@example.org.