I would have liked to have seen a bit more from Ella Fitzgerald (Nicola Emmanuelle) in this version of The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas, led as ever by Frank Sinatra (Garrett Phillips) though there’s seldom anything wrong with leaving the audience wanting more, and, as the caption on the back cover of the show’s programme reads, “It’s Frank’s world… we just live in it.” It was good to return to this production, having seen it earlier in this run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Now, with the many songs put in for the Christmas season put away, the show flows better as a whole without the likes of ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘ Baby It’s Cold Outside’ intermingled with tunes made famous by The Rat Pack in their Fifties and Sixties heyday. (Perhaps the Christmas show ought to have been the other way around, with a greater emphasis on holiday tunes.)
The non-Christmas show, if I can call it that, is one of those evenings (or indeed matinees) where one can sit back and enjoy the music, performed with a big band under the direction of Matthew Freeman. There’s no real plot to speak of, and on one level it’s simply a large repertoire of songs performed with some stagey banter included to maintain interest. Such a viewpoint is, however, too simplistic, and just a tad too cynical – I don’t normally listen to this sort of music, and had a great time hearing these melodies sung in the style they would have been a generation ago.
Proceedings are not (spoiler alert), aside from the selection of songs, very much altogether different in what Dean Martin (Nigel Casey) described in the Christmas production as ‘a new show’. The drinks cabinet makes an appearance, many of the punchlines have been retained – including the sorts of remarks that probably wouldn’t have been made in a production set in the present day – and they still haven’t given Sammy Davis Jr (David Hayes) a pair of tap shoes to allow the audience to hear as well as see some lovely dancing.
Fair play to this production though, taking the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas has always been a case of supply and demand: as long as the audiences still come, there’s no reason for it to stop touring. There have been calls from certain quarters about making changes to the show, looking at a new format and perhaps amending some of the dialogue. But this would be rather like Coca-Cola making changes to its recipe – as it did in 1985, an ultimately unsuccessful move.
A tried and tested winning formula, one would have thought they’d have nailed the sound balance by now. The band, marvellous as they were, occasionally drowned out the lyrics. A minor distraction, really, particularly given that the core audience knew the words anyway, and full marks to this production for creating an atmosphere that palpably felt like The Rat Pack had been brought back to life – it was so authentic that the smell of cigarette smoke wafted over the stalls. A delightfully satisfying production with irresistible charm.
Review by Chris Omaweng
First Lady of Song Ella Fitzgerald’s centenary is now being celebrated in the West End production of the Olivier Award-nominated The Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas, which has returned to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket – home to its first West End run in 2003 – for a strictly limited season until Saturday 3rd February 2018.
The cast features Garrett Phillips as Frank Sinatra, Nigel Casey (Dean Martin), David Hayes (Sammy Davis Jr), with Joanna Walters, Amelia Adams, Rebecca Parker and Laura Darton as The Burrelli Sisters.
Musical Director of the 12-piece Rat Pack Big Band is Matthew Freeman.
Nicola Emmanuelle sings the songs of Ella Fitgerald to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the First Lady of Song and Queen of Jazz.
Songs featured in this special edition of the production include Night and Day, The Lady is a Tramp, Mack the Knife and S’Wonderful.
The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas
Tuesday January 9th – Saturday 3rd February 2018
Theatre Royal Haymarket
18 Suffolk Street
The Rat Pack: Live At The Sands