Rat Pack’s back with swagger and stagger
In the 1950s, Lauren Bacall, observing husband Humphrey Bogart, crony Frank Sinatra and fellow boozers after a Las Vegas rampage, proclaimed, “You look like a ... rat pack.” The title took, and the elite Hollywood coterie it christened occupies a potent place in show-biz mythology.
The original Rat Pack, with Judy Garland and David Niven among its members, reflected Bogart, the ordained Rat in Charge of Public Relations. Disdaining sobriety, distrusting polite society, the Pack’s nightclub exploits became legendary.
After Bogart’s death in 1957, Pack Master Sinatra reclaimed the enclave. The Pack now included Peter Lawford, Shirley MacLaine and others. Still, from the Kennedy era on, the public identified the Rat Pack primarily with Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
This trio drives the limited engagement of “Direct From Vegas -- The Rat Pack” at the Kodak Theatre. In fact, they represent the entire vehicle. Performers Steve Apple, Gary Corsello and Lonnie Parlor conjure up Martin, Sinatra and Davis, respectively, at the Sands Hotel’s Copa Room, circa the early ‘60s.
The curtain rises to a big-band blast from musical director John Peace’s splendid players. Director Joe A. Giamalva’s staging idealizes the Copa’s configurations. A mini-proscenium of piano keys frames the bandstand, augmented by drops depicting the headliners, plus a fully stocked bar on the sidelines. Ian Santiago’s ornate lighting goes into overdrive, and it’s only the overture.
The stars appear, launching into “Luck Be a Lady,” and it’s time-capsule time. Act 1 interweaves liquor-laden banter and politically incorrect insults with solo turns of each artist’s signature numbers. Act 2 brings duets, medleys, more raunchy interplay and copious drinking.
What sustains “Rat Pack” is the panache with which the performers replicate the icons. Parlor’s Davis is formidable, lacking the dance range but otherwise identical. His timing and vivid top register demonstrate why Davis himself recommended Parlor’s impression.
As Sinatra, Corsello’s dark-eyed demeanor seems closer to Rat Packer Joey Bishop; this surely blurs in the Kodak’s upper reaches. For Corsello’s timbre and lyric pointing are precise in their evocation of Ol’ Blue Eyes, as are his dialogue readings.
Moreover, producer Apple has Martin down cold. His vibrato is straiter-laced, but his tone and physicality are exactly right, and the audience interaction and self-deprecating humor hammer the illusion home.
For devotees, this nightclub resurrection may prove intoxicating. Audiences not predisposed to worship may be less bowled over. The cavernous Kodak is scarcely conducive to lounge-act intimacy (though this attraction is more intelligibly amplified than others the venue has hosted).
More problematic is the scenario, a virtual transcription of the Pack’s act. The proceedings lack a point of view beyond questionable attitudes and (somewhat sanitized) jokes that already were hoary when originated. Chronological nitpickers may find post-dated items such as “The Candy Man” or “New York, New York” distracting, and kinetic creativity is limited.
Granted, such reactions are subjective -- the enthusiasm at Wednesday’s opening suggests that Rat Pack packrats should make reservations immediately. Recovering alcoholics and persons sensitive to stereotypes, though, must consider their constitutions and/or memories.
‘Direct From Vegas -- The Rat Pack’
Where: Kodak Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood & Highland Entertainment Complex, Hollywood
When: Today, 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.
Contact: (714) 740-7878, (213) 365-3500
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes