The Boys are back in Town! Transport yourselves to Las Vegas when Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin fetch up next month at the lil’ old Devonshire Park Theatre!
From Las Vegas to Eastbourne is an awful long way, geographically and culturally, and here’s a personal confession that might not surprise you: the Nevada capital of glitz and gambling is not actually on my bucket list. I am sure it’s a riot for your stag party but it won’t make UNESCO City of Culture status.
But when the 1960s Sands Hotel hosted Sinatra and his friends for their fabulous, often impromptu music-making, you might have caught me sneaking in. Those must have been some unforgettable nights. The music is classic and timeless: gorgeous arrangements of memorable songs, delivered with style and panache by performers with huge personalities. The Rat Pack – incongruous name, and ever so slightly notorious – rightly turned that music into a genre.
Timeless is the key word, and this re-staging simply spins back the decades. The show has toured Eastbourne before, playing to rapturous audiences in the Congress Theatre, but the format can also work in the intimacy of the Devonshire Park Theatre. Indeed, the smaller auditorium may actually enhance that special connection of performers and audience.
Earlier this month I caught one of the final West End performances, before it took to the road – third stop Eastbourne, from March 6-10. That most sumptuous of London venues, the Theatre Royal Haymarket, all rich red satin and exquisite gold carving, was brimming with fans and they soaked up every moment.
Do not expect back stories and biographies, by the way. There may still be a play waiting to be written about the Rat Pack exploits, their alleged associations with politicians or organised crime, but this show isn’t it. Tonight is simply music night.
Even so, there is an unreconstructed feel to much of the show. The guys are in shiny suits and slimline ties. The fabulous dancers vamp it all up, but nobody minds. The humour is occasionally crass, and the Dean Martin portrayal centres too heavily on his legendary fondness for the bottle. Singers persistently entangle themselves with microphone leads until the joke has worn too thin.
But all of this actually achieves some authenticity: the night-club setting, the sense of relaxed camaraderie which must have ruled those nights of impromptu music-making (the boys were actually in Vegas during the making of the original Rat Pack movie in 1960).
Musically, it all blends seamlessly. A superb twelve-piece band on stage – there’s a little challenge for the Devonshire Park crew, but you can bet they will find a way – is genially led from the piano by MD Matthew Freeman.
The classic numbers, over thirty of them, tumble out one after another. What’s your personal favourite? Black Magic, or Volare? It’s there. Night and Day, or New York, New York? They’re in. And all with assured and controlled delivery and a kind of satin power, like a purring limousine that accelerates without you noticing.
It is the principals who nail it. This is no run-of-the-mill tribute show. The company actually rotates the leads, but for each of the four main roles, they have come up with astoundingly talented performers. On the night I was in, Stephen Triffitt as Sinatra was unbelievable: you could be watching and hearing the man himself. David Hayes has the look, the body language and the personality of Sammy Davis Jr. Nigel Casey has made a career of his Dean Martin characterisation.
But they save the real treat for the second half. Nicola Emmanuel, although youngish in the role, is a sensational Ella Fitzgerald, delivering her iconic numbers with such control and beauty that you could close your eyes and be listening to the real Ella.
The musical arrangements have awesome power. All the singers can belt, and the audience lap it up. When Sinatra finishes Lady Is A Tramp on a thrilling jazz chord, a magnificent seventh, the auditorium is in meltdown. I turned up to this show intrigued, slightly sceptical, and I went away convinced and converted. The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas – is live in Eastbourne. Treat yourselves. By Kevin Anderson.
Performances from March 6-10, tickets from £23.50 on 01323 412000 or online at eastbournetheatres.co.uk.