IF YOU GO
What: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., return to earth on a mission from God
When: Wednesday through Sunday evenings with selected matinées through Oct. 6.
Where: 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers (in Royal Palm Square)
Cost: $39 dinner & show special
Information: 239-278-4422 or broadwaypalm.com
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
OK. Here's the drill. I'm a few generations past the Rat Pack era, but the music still has the power to thrill. Broadway Palm's season-opener, "The Rat Pack Lounge," serves up Frank, Dean and Sammy - and their tunes - on a shiny platter. If you like Ol' Blue Eyes, you'll love this show.
A nonsensical, wafer-thin plot sees God send Frank Sinatra (Victor Legarreta), Dean Martin (Seth Abrahms) and Sammy Davis, Jr. (Soloman Kee), down from Heaven to fix one of Frank's goofs. The trio (and Amy Marie McCleary as the angelic "Angie") land in Vic Candelino's (Justin Robinson) bar. Mischief and song spill forth into the night.
"Rat Pack" gets a lot right. The material itself lands squarely in Broadway Palm's demographic; all or part of 26 songs from the era wind through the show. Director/choreographer Legarreta and his cast clearly love the material - and each other. Their breezy camaraderie gives the pallid writing a huge lift. And really, you'd have to go a long, long way to mess up the Rat Pack.
Standout numbers include McCleary and the boys on a rousing "Angel Said." This might be the show's best number - if only for the va-va-voom factor of McCleary whipping off her character's trench coat to reveal a sparkling white-sequined costume and legs for days. The quartet cha-chas all over the stage, over tables, chairs and on top of the bar blasting out the anthem. You can practically feel the pacemakers whir to life during the energetic tune that celebrates life's success stories.
Other success stories include Kee tuning his pipes with a pair of Sammy Davis hits, "Something's Gotta Give" and "What Kind of Fool Am I?" He's a magnetic, volatile performer that attracts the eye and seduces the ear. Legarreta's buttery voice melts into Sinatra classics, while Abrahms croons and coos Martin's love songs - he even goes out into the audiences to vamp with the ladies!
Yet, for all that Legarreta obviously labors to keep the show moving as fast as he could, gives Abrahms free rein with his comic touches or allows the music to take center stage, "Rat Pack" gets caught in a nasty trap. The singing and acting might be great; but the material falls short of their talents.
A cringe-worthy setup dodges anything that even looks like an honest emotion. Simplistic dialogue races from complexity. I suspect Legarreta and his cast either "improved" or ad-libbed much of the funnier lines. Full credit to them for making a bland show watchable.
The first hour of "Rat Pack" sees Frank, Dean and Sammy (with Angie's help) complete their "mission." Poor lost Vic's soul is saved. For the second act, instead of a trip to Heaven (or a better plot), the audience gets a "greatest hits" revue of the Rat Pack catalog. Or at least part of it - which opens the show up to more criticism.
In an effort to mash as many memory cue buttons as possible, "Rat Pack Lounge" writers James Hindman and Ray Roderick only give parts of this tune or a slice of that one. Pensioners at the table in front of me openly complained about "them not finishing the songs." I'll admit, even though I'm not intimately familiar with this music, I found myself wondering if they had to pay for royalties by the verse.
Loren Strickland's six-piece orchestra does a solid job of sounding like a 30+ piece big band unit. Strickland himself fronts the piano with flair to spare during the second half's lounge scenes. William Davis decorates the bar set with loving nods to the Rat Pack era, while Russell A. Thompson nails the tacky neon decadence of the trio's Vegas heyday.
Despite the faults, "Rat Pack Lounge" offers many delights. Sinatra. Sammy. Dean. And don't forget Angie. Music. Memories. Relive the past in newly remodeled Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre - and celebrate the songs of the Rat Pack. You'll be glad you did.
Who was your favorite member of the Rat Pack? Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.