FOUR ON THE FLOOR The heyday of Vegas stardom, revisited.
For a certain generation, attending the musical The Rat Pack is Back! is to indulge in an evening of nostalgic transport, watching four performers recreate the songs and antics of four superstars during their golden era, playing sold-out shows in Las Vegas. For a younger generation, such an evening presents an opportunity for a little historical pop-cultural education. A production at the beautiful Ogunquit Playhouse offers both the old favorites and a sense of just what was the collective dynamic and appeal of Frank Sinatra (Brian DuPrey), Dean Martin (Drew Anthony), Sammy Davis Jr. (Kyle Diamond), and Joey Bishop (Mickey Joseph).
Education-wise, in the first place, a pre-show monitor offers us the fun facts: Lauren Bacall is credited with giving the gang their catchy, slant-rhyme moniker, though the performers themselves are said to have, modestly, preferred to call themselves "The Summit." As the twelve-piece band starts up, we segue into a black-and-white montage of the time and the place: The Sands, roulette wheels, dancing girls, JFK, champagne drunk from the bottle. It was an era of vast optimism, economic prosperity, and beautiful people at play.
But what about the music, already? Well, the band, led by Lon Bronson (who has the distinction of leading the longest-running band in Vegas), is excellent, swinging, and at ease laughing along with the stars' antics. Performing on a stage set in luxe Vegas style with glittering beads, a chandelier, and a grand piano covered with half-drunk highballs, they're technically accomplished and have an entertaining sense of humor.
And the four guys stroll out onto it like they own the place. DuPrey holds a striking resemblance to Sinatra, in his eyes and his impish, prominently cheekboned grin, and the texture of his voice, especially in the signature "My Way," sounds impressively close to the real deal. As Deano, Anthony, too, really has the face and look of the guy he's playing. He has a nice nearly-wasted warble in his patter, and skips, mugs, and handles oversized martinis like a winningly overgrown boy. Neither of these guys quite had the physical suavity I (rightly or not) expected; it's Diamond's Sammy who's got the moves in his shiny electric blue suit, and those moves are frenetic and coked-up, with a sexuality that's half provocative, half clowning. His voice gets a little lost under the band at times, but his presence is a trip in itself. Rounding them out is Joseph's wry schlemiel Bishop, whose self-deprecating one-liners are a counter-balance to the casual arrogance of the other three.
All of them are hugely hammy. For every song, there's just as much time spent in banter, patter, gags, and a rather remarkable array of testicle jokes. Sammy dresses up as the Lone Ranger. Breaking the fourth wall, Frank refers to his highball of fake Jack Daniel's, and Bishop dons an apron with the poster logo to hawk T-shirts. Anachronistic jokes are made about the Village People and Brokeback Mountain. The overwhelming sense of these four guys is of a small band of teenage boys — privileged, talented, high-living boys, but boys nonetheless. Their pleasure in each other's company is so infectious that everyone wants to be around them, and they're magnanimous enough to invite us all in.