REVIEW: The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas (Theatre Royal Haymarket) ★★★★
Fresh from their festive season, which garnered great attention due to its revival of many Christmas classics, The Rat Pack are back with an updated array of songs (a few unbeatable classics remain, never fear), a re-jig of the dance numbers and the added sensation that is Ella Fitzgerald.
Garrett Phillips is a solid leading man as our Sinatra, with his ‘Sway’ and ‘That’s Amore’ being positively entrancing; you can’t help but wish you were up there with him. His duet with Nicola (as Ella Fitzgerald) of ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ is equally as beautiful to lay ears upon. Sinatra knew he owned the stage at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and that this was ‘his world’, so Phillips’ confident, self-assured attitude was spot-on for me.
It is an enormous feat to attempt a tribute of Sammy David Jr., as his style and vocal abilities were immense – some reviews of David Hayes have been incredibly harsh and I simply do not agree that he is underwhelming as Sammy. He is light on his feet and has a fantastic aptitude for capturing his unbridled spirit and eccentricities, not to mention having an excellent array of facial expressions whilst singing (of which Sammy was infamous for).
Nigel Casey‘s rendition of ‘When You’re Drinkin’ was one of the best-received scenes of the night and a brilliant start to the second half: Casey has a talent for humour, and his excellent comedic timing really makes this a success. The audience is putty in Casey’s hands when it comes to the likeability of his Dean.
Nicola Emmanuel as Ella Fitzgerald adds an undeniable prestige to this updated show; her inclusion gives the performance that real ‘special guest’ excitement about it, and it’s great to have a star-spangled female leading the vocals alongside the Rat Pack. Emmanuel is nothing short of gorgeous, with flawless range and a pleasing stage presence. She brings a much-needed air of elegance and sensibility to a very macho, male-led show, adding another dimension to the overall performance.
The Burelli sisters’ performances were consistently impressive, especially their spectacular costumes and dancing to ‘New York, New York’. The choreography was inventive and well-executed throughout, with my only criticism being one particularly odd number whereby the ladies were doing some strange movements akin to a clucking bird, and I wasn’t the only one very confused by this sudden departure from elegance to abstract. Still, the ladies are pure fun to watch and glorious to listen to.
I just wish the structure would be revisited. The first half is so incredibly different from the second, and after now seeing the same thing repeated twice in the Christmas show and this one, I don’t see much sense in it. In the first, we have very isolated scenes – Frank sings a few, Sammy sings a few, Dean sings a few, the Burelli sisters dance a lot, they occasionally cross paths and do the odd duet – but all of the best bits happen in the second half. After the interval we are introduced to Ella, the Pack are a lot more relaxed and on stage most of the time around a bar, with infectious humour and even more wise-cracks added. The camaraderie between the three men is utterly believable, and the performances flow at a much more natural pace. Creating a better cohesion between the two parts would only serve the production better, as the first half would have that ‘pizazz’ it’s currently missing.
Musical Director Matthew Freeman‘s Big Band worked incredibly hard as always, to incredible effect: the finale of ‘My Way’ garnered a standing ovation from the audience, with Phillips closing the show to spectacular ensemble. I would go back and see this again and again, even just to listen with my eyes closed to Freeman’s Big Band. A night of nostalgic, heart-warming fun.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: Betty Zapata