Legendary comedian Buddy Hackett comes back from the dead in his son Sandy’s new Rat Pack Show, now at Marines’ Memorial Theater. Buddy appears as the disembodied voice of a fallen angel introducing a devilishly good show featuring his compatriots from Vegas, Dino, Sammy, Joey, and Chairman Frankie.
Buddy was a business associate of those performers, and from heaven he brings them back. After a saxophone solo the curtains part to reveal projections on a wrinkled drape. Vignettes appear of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Frank Sinatra in their glorious heyday as the Rat Pack. The Sands Hotel in Vegas was the site of “Summit at the Sands” during the filming of Ocean’s Eleven where Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Bishop, and Peter Lawford performed on stage together for the first time. They became known as the Rat Pack. In the comically ironic end to the film strip, the hotel building implodes in a great cloud of smoke.
Sandy Hackett’s recreation of this act does not include Lawford, but it does merrily evoke the spirit and fun of that collaboration. The singing and antics of the performers are spot-on imitations of the originals. The songs and acts are familiar and the setting is as comfortable as a lounge. Show-tune standards such as “That’s Amore” and “That Old Black Magic” receive cabaret-style interpretations to a banda of piano, drums, and horns. The interpretations by the four actors capture the stage essences of the Pack members in a way that is eerily supernatural. The actors are obviously not the Pack, but they have down pat their personae.
Tony Basile as a pseudo-suave Dean Martin sings “Amore” with a suitably greasy voice, always sliding up toward but barely reaching the notes. After he talks about how he lost three days in one week on his new whiskey diet he launches into an effortlessly romantic rendition of “Volare.” He typifies the spirit of the show when he appears as “Wrong Indian” Tonto with a feather duster headdress in a skit with Sammy as “the West Oakland Lone Ranger,” only one of several topical references.
Doug Sparks as Sammy is a hyper kinetic actor with a strong baritone and concentrates fully on his act. He does not use his face much, aside from sporting gold-rim glasses, but his body is constantly in motion, until he sits on the stage apron with a whisky glass for the melancholy “What Kind of Fool Am I.” He jumps up to take over from the drummer with a furious rhythm, and then swaps off without either of them losing a beat.
David DeCosta plays a confident, laid-back Frankie. He displays bravura form as he strides on stage wearing his fedora to sing “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Reverberation effects in the mix and multi-tracking give his voice the lush crooning texture of Sinatra’s. His swaggering stage presence remains unruffled even when Joey interrupts him from the aisle.
The trademark shtick of Joey Bishop was his deadpan delivery. He could say the most outrageously funny things and keep a face of hardened plaster. Sandy Hackett, in his tribute to his father’s friends from the Rat Pack, has taken on the role of Joey. Even though Bishop himself said he wishes he could have been as good, Sandy is somewhat stiff and can’t keep the shadow of a grin off his face. In his skit as Yoshi “half Haviian” Bishop he remarks that every December 7 he has a conflict with himself.
Sandy’s improvisational skills were severely put to the test on opening night. He handled himself very well when faced with a heckler from the audience. She ruined the evening and derailed Joey’s routine with her protestations over the subject matter of his joke. Through the rest of the show he created funny references to the incident.
This touring show is a fitting tribute to a show business legend and a great act in itself. Hackett has used entertainment icons to create a grand lounge act in a gracious San Francisco setting. Special seats are available with cocktails and posters.
Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show continues through May 23 at Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street, San Francisco. Tickets ($19 to $89) are available online at www.sandysratpack.com or by e-mail at [email protected] and by phone at 415-771-6900.