'Rat Pack' gets the music right, but is off on tone

| Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Lately, everywhere I go, I see dead people.

Last week, Marley was haunting Scrooge at the Byham Theater in “A Musical Christmas Carol.”

The Plaids returned from heaven in “Plaid Tidings” at the CLO Cabaret.

On New Year's Eve, the specter of Sam in “Ghost The Musical” takes over the Benedum Center.

This week's visitation is a trifecta of phantoms — Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. — appearing through Dec. 29 at Heinz Hall with “Christmas with the Rat Pack — Live at the Sands.”

It's the holiday edition of an earlier show, “The Rat Pack – Live at the Sands,” that attempts to replicate not just these three show-biz icons, but the era of the early 1960s when the trio appeared together onstage in the Copa Room of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.

Mingling more than two dozen Christmas songs with standards from the men's careers, the show raises holiday spirits, but only shadows of the original performers.

Tam Ward, Nigel Casey and Jason Pennycooke, who play Sinatra, Martin and Davis, are clearly talented, committed performers.

All three hail from the United Kingdom. But you'd never know it from their tuneful voices.

Ward nails Sinatra's Hoboken, N.J., accent. Casey reproduces Martin's laid-back delivery, and Pennycooke generates Davis's high-energy delivery.

They are marvels at recapturing and delivering the phrasing, tone and breezy pacing of their characters' delivery.

Ward's “I've Got You Under My Skin” is near perfection.

Casey's “That's Amore” is almost classic Martin.

Ditto for Pennycooke's delivery of Davis' “Mr. Bojangles.”

Their combined performance of “Sam's Song Style” recalls the hijinks and silliness of Rat Pack performances.

Close your eyes, and it's almost like you're back in the '60s listing to vinyl LPs on your stereo.

It's visually where the show falls short.

Sinatra, Martin and Davis were consummate performers who loved entertaining and connected with their audiences. Though Pennycooke is best at transmitting that charisma, Ward and Casey are more remote and distant.

The show comes with a first-rate orchestra of 12 musicians. Set designer Sean Cavanagh and lighting director Mark Wheatley have created an elegant and colorful environment that's undeniably more lavish than the Copa Room original.

Adding to the glamour are three leggy chorus ladies in a progression of show-girl costumes that lend an aura of period glitz to the proceedings.

The show is least likeable when it ventures into humor.

Jokes about race, religion, Martin's drunkenness and male-female interactions that had audiences laughing in the '60s now produce discomfort, not nostalgia.

Those who remember the vibrant presence of the real Sinatra, Martin and Davis may find this show conjures their ghosts, but not their spirits.

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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