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'Rat Pack' re-creators back in Pittsburgh to croon Christmas tunes

| Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Robert Workman
Tam Ward as Frank Sinatra in 'The Rat Pack - Live from Las Vegas'
Robert Workman
Tam Ward as Frank Sinatra in 'The Rat Pack - Live from Las Vegas'
PNC Broadway Across America
Nigel Casey plays Dean Martin, accompanied by a few dancing girls, in “Christmas with the Rat Pack — Live at the Sands”
George Bodnar
Jason Pennycooke plays Sammy Davis Jr. in “Christmas with the Rat Pack — Live at the Sands”

As a young teen growing up in Glasgow in the '80s, Tam Ward had a Saturday ritual: he would start out his day watching kids' shows on BBC 1.

“Then sports would come on at noon, and I'd switch to BBC2 and watch movies,” he recalls.

Many of the films were vintage movie musicals that starred Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. While watching them, Ward developed a lifelong fondness for songs and singers from another era.

“In the '80s, I wasn't keen on pop music. I loved jazz and Elvis,” Ward says.

Those movies turned out to be early research that paid off in a later-life career.

Ward is an actor, singer and dancer who has appeared in plays with Theatre de la Complicite and at the Royal National Theatre in London. His dance credits include the Stepbrother in Matthew Bourne's “Cinderella” in Los Angeles and The Prince in “Swan Lake” in Los Angeles and London's West End and on Broadway.

But he's most widely known for his performances as Frank Sinatra in “The Rat Pack — Live at the Sands” as well as in solo gigs at pubs, clubs and hotels.

He will be appearing as Sinatra from Dec. 24 to 29 at Heinz Hall, Downtown, in “Christmas With the Rat Pack — Live at the Sands'' a nonsubscription presentation of PNC Broadway Across America — Pittsburgh.

The holiday-theme show takes audiences back to the 1960s when Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop became known as the Rat Pack.

While filming “Ocean's Eleven” in Las Vegas, they spent their nights onstage at the Sands Hotel in seemingly impromptu shows of songs and patter that became wildly popular.

“Christmas With the Rat Pack — Live at the Sands” resurrects Sinatra, Martin, Davis Jr. and a bygone glamorous era with a score of songs they made famous.

Interspersed among signature classics such as Sinatra's “Fly Me to the Moon,” Martin's “That's Amore” and Davis Jr.'s “Mr. Bojangles” are seasonal selections that include “Merry Little Christmas,” “Baby, It's Cold Outside,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “White Christmas.”

Accompanying Frank, Dino and Sammy are a 12-piece orchestra and a trio of elegantly gowned females.

The women, Ward says, “are an additional dash of something that wasn't present in the Rat Pack shows, and they can do a little bit of carrying on with Dean and Sammy.”

Much of the show's dialogue and comedic bits are drawn from the original shows that were preserved on sound records, Ward says. But, he adds, he and his fellow cast members will transmit that air of spontaneity that made the original shows such a hit with Las Vegas audiences.

A long-time fan of Sinatra and his music, Ward didn't need to do a great deal of research before taking on the role five years ago. He did read some biographies on Sinatra to get a better understanding of the show's era. He tries to create an image of Sinatra without becoming an impersonator.

“It's a bit of a fine line. If, in your imagination, you are trying to be him, it goes off the rails and you're not doing justice to him or me. I try to create an atmosphere where I'm not doing anything too like him.”

But, ultimately, he says: “It's really about the music. I tried to make it about being in the swing of the music.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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