“The Rat Pack Live” show returns for another successful run at The Edinburgh Fringe 2017 promising to bring some Las Vegas Stage magic to C venues in Chambers Street, Edinburgh. Does it re-create any of that magic though? Yes and no is the answer to that question, and how you respond to this show is very much down to your idea of what the Rat Pack might have been like at their peak if like myself (and many members of the audience) you were never lucky enough to experience the real stars together live on stage.
This is an odd show for me as there are a mixture of high points and low points throughout its performance. One undoubted high is that it is a big cast show - Jamie Chidzey as Frank Sinatra, Hugo Joss Catton as Dean Martin, Alistair Nwachukwu as Sammy Davis Jnr, an 11 piece band and two showgirls (later backing vocalists) to welcome you into the event. For your ticket price you are getting a lot of show here. The downside of all of this (and probably nothing to do to with the show) is that it needs far more space than it has at the moment and a real stage to perform on (like the one downstairs in this venue).
The one thing that is inescapable about this show is that our main performers and our band are still very young and, despite the obvious personal talents of our lead cast, that can be a problem when trying to re-create three music legends at a certain time in their life. Also, many of these songs are not just songs, they are stories, and the writers of many of the songs the Rat Pack performed – writers like Jimmy van Huesen, Sammy Cahn, Johnny Mercer, George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Harold Arlen (to name a few) were masters of their craft and often wrote songs that you need to have lived long enough to have experienced some things and understand the emotions behind them. Good as vocals may be, without that emotional level of being able to make an audience feel like you are telling them something personal to you, then these songs can all too easily just become words that no amount of volume of delivery will overcome.
Franks Sinatra in particular was famous for not only his ability to often sit just behind the beat of band with a song and deliver effortlessly emotional depth, but he was also famous for being able to hear if anyone in a band was out by a note or a beat, and this band have a few problems as the feel and timing for being in the band behind these type of songs varies enormously within it. Some band members are obviously very comfortable with it and others do seem to be finding the timings and arrangements more challenging…a few at times actually look a bit lost and at times bored. They are all however very young musicians, so I hope by the end of this show’s run they have all got into their comfort zones with the music.
Despite some good vocals by our three lead Rat Pack team, there is a bit of a feeling of Frank, Dean and Sammy being reduced at time to caricatures and that is a shame as all three performers are more than capable. I think perhaps the problem is that they try too hard to be “The Rat Pack” at times and my advice would be “don’t try so hard”. As a audience we all know we are not going in to see an original Rat Pack Show, so just trust the songs, their music and the lyrics and everything else will sort itself out. Dean Martin’s jokes do need sorted out though. Despite being ones Dean used in the day, they are so dated and fit a little uncomfortably in our current views on some subjects. These can so easily be updated as the original humour was often very topical.
This is as I have said an odd show for me to watch as I found that famous camaraderie and humour that the originals were famous for very forced and unnatural at times, yet looser and more improvised moments like “Frank” doing the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen classic “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” with a member of the audience as bartender Joe was perfect.
I was also a little bit puzzled with the time frame of this show as we appeared to be set originally in the early 1960s with the gang at their peak, then later songs like “My Way “ and “New York New York” came into the set. I suppose though that everyone in the audience would have expected them to be there.
I have to be fair here to say to everyone reading this review that the audience reaction overall to the show was very positive and highly appreciative. My own advice to our modern “Rat Pack” would be to just be themselves and let things flow smoothly and easily like the originals did, and the magic behind these songs and their own talents will let them do just that.
Review by Tom King