BaddaBlog

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rat Pack: What About Dean?

Sort of an anniversary present to the B&D. Sort of a Valentine's Day present, too. Sort of a night out with our friends (Hip J & the Doll plus another couple who are very dear to us).

The State Theater showed The Rat Pack Live at the Sands... a stage show originating in the UK that attempts to capture the spirit of Frank, Dean, and Sammy at the capital of swank, the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in the 60s. Some feat.

That's three legends... three legends who were legends when they were alive. Frank's career had enough peaks and valleys for three singers (or Hollywood stars). Dean wasn't the world's greatest singer, but he knew how to sell a song... and he excelled in personality. He could be the straight-man, hit a punch-line, give you a little song, give you a little dance, spray some seltzer down your pants, charm the women, be the envy of the men, and do it all effortlessly. Sammy... I don't even need to describe the man's accomplishments with anything other than the word genius.

Someone tried to cast that show? A show where each of the three leads would perform the songs that we remember them for, the gags we know them for, and not to mention interact between themselves... uh, huh. That's a tall order, baby.

Frank only died a short while ago... eight years this coming May 14th. (I remember the news coming down off the wire in the newsroom.) Dino was eleven years this past Christmas. The youngest, Sammy, died almost eight years before Frank... May 16th, 1990. They hadn't performed together much in the later years... but their antics were known by many, watched over and over in their films, and more recently played out on a number of CDs. (Not to mention the older releases of their individual live performances.)

Obviously, Sammy was the difficult one to cast. Sure, you didn't need him to dance all night, but that guy needed to do some dancing. It wouldn't be Sammy otherwise. There's the impersonations. Sam also knew how to play a few instruments. (Stevie Wonder before Stevie Wonder... plus eyesight in one eye.) Of course, everyone knows Frank. He was their leader... and, in one way or another, he demanded a little more of the spotlight. Not nearly as over-the-top as Sam, but that's like saying Audrey Hepburn isn't attractive because Marylin Monroe is hot. Then there's Dean. How do you cast personality like that?

Believe it or not the guy who plays Frank (Stephen Triffit) does a remarkable job. He doesn't struggle to play Frank... he just does it. He sounds like him, moves along like him, banters like him... he does a great performance. Unfortunately, the show features a few songs that (to my limited knowledge) do not come from the Sands shows... some recorded after those days, certainly New York, New York, and My Way. However, everyone knows Sinatra for those songs... and I'm sure the producers wanted to deliver some songs that some audiences would naturally think of.

Sammy is wild... right down to the suits. He blows a trumpet, taps up and down the stage, mugs, smokes, gives us one or two "babes", throws out a few well known lines ("If this don't straighten my hair nothin' will!"), cracks up at Frank and Dean (and himself), and delivers the Sammy style with an affectionate performance. Not an impersonation. Some of it seems too over-the-top... but this is Sammy. If the actor (David Hayes) didn't go well beyond the mark it would probably have seemed half-hearted. Sammy was just sooooo flamboyant. Again, the producers saw fit a song that probably wasn't ever done at the Sands... "Mr. Bojangles", but they slid it in as Sam's tribute to the time with his uncle and father (The Will Maston Trio) and it feels right.

Dean... smooth for sure. The guy they got (Nigel Casey) knows how to wear and walk in a tuxedo (a couple of them). He takes his time... just like Dean. However, when you compare the voices of Frank and Sammy with the real deal they come close enough. Dean's voice doesn't come as close... though, it sounds quite good. In fact, that might be the problem. Dean was very casual. That was the bit... so casual he was almost not there. This guy did a couple of prattfalls, and I'm not sure Dean did that. Even if he didn't, it fits the show. Also to his credit, his chat and gags work... not an easy task considering most of the jokes Dean used were old and stale when he did them. He (Dean as much as Casey) needed the audience's good will for the jokes to fly... and just like in the 60s, the audience rides along here.

Hell, considering the source two outta three isn't bad at all. You can tell it's two out of three... but those are three rather difficult guys to nail.

The wife and I decided to watch the HBO film "The Rat Pack" again on Sunday. Another film that tries to tackle a number of well-known faces with familiar voices... mostly done without impersonations. In fact, the make-up on Ray Liotta doesn't go out of the way to force Sinatra's mug on him... he's obviously Ray Liotta. Same with Joe Mantegna as Dino and Don Cheadle as Sammy. (Likewise with Angus Macfadyen as Peter Lawford and Bobby Slayton as Joey Bishop... if you have seen them before.)

Some of the film's musical numbers are done with voice dubs, however, the most of the stage scenes use the actor's voices. Whoever dubbed Dean's voice nailed it. Not only that, but Joe Mantegna clearly appreciates Dino (who can't?)... he nailed Dean's personality in the film. He got a Golden Globe for that performance.

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