By Marty Mulrooney
As a huge fan of music from long before my time, I was thrilled to be able to see the Olivier Award nominated official Rat Pack act (all the way from Las Vegas apparently!), performing a special Christmas show last night in my hometown of Liverpool (they are doing a full tour of the UK at the moment, including London’s West End). But as always with tribute shows, I asked myself a loaded question as I took my seat: can such shows and their participants ever step from beneath the mighty shadow their idols have cast down upon them?
Initials impressions were good. The lights dimmed, further casting focus on the beautiful decorations and Christmas trees surrounding the walls and stage. A young American man hammed up his accent, explaining how Sinatra’s men would destroy any cameras or recording equipment used throughout the show. He also further assured us that the show was in no way mafia endorsed, getting a good laugh. This will explain why I couldn’t take any pictures or videos for this review!
Frank started the show off with a bang. Played last night by Stephen Rashbrook, his voice was note perfect. Perhaps the most authentic performer of the show, you could actually close your eyes and be fooled 90% of the time that it was Frank crooning on stage. Ever the straight man, this performance worked really well because it allowed the other two main leads to act silly without becoming too over the top or clichéd.
Matthew Henry as Sammy Davis Jr. was incredible, entering the stage like a bag of snakes, writhing and prancing everywhere. His comedic timing was brilliant, contrasted with genuine subtlety when the moment called for it, allowing him to also deliver several toned-down, personal performances. His rendition of Mr Bojangles, lit cigarette in hand (shock horror!), was a major highlight.
Liam O’Brien rounded off the cast as Dean Martin, complete with deep tan and curly locks. The middle man between the ever serious Frank and the aloof Sammy David Jr., Liam sang his Italian lines effortlessly, acted drunk without ever going too far and surprised everybody with some highly respectable singing chops.
His flirting with the three beautiful, classy female backing singers (this was a time when sexy didn’t mean you looked slutty, less was more) made me laugh constantly. The Burelli Sisters did so much more than just stand around being hit on though… their singing was incredible. No note was out of reach for them, and combined with the trio singing at their most passionate, these six performers had real chemistry and talent across the board.
This is without mention of the live band of course: no words can do them justice. Again, note perfect and impeccably timed, the live musicians dialled the whole performance up to 11. Amazing.
So a night of mild sexual innuendo, smoking and drinking on stage and music that actually meant something then and still does now. How refreshing! The cleverest thing about this Christmas show was this; they peppered the show with Christmas songs and references, rather than making it the focus. When Frank did sit down and sing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, you could have heard a pin drop. Beautiful, personal and poignant.
Yet still, how else could we end but with a rousing rendition of My Way, with Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin trying to steal Frank’s lines? Nobody will ever better the originals, but last night these performers paid a wonderful tribute to three legends that put many of today’s signed musicians and so-called bands to shame. A wonderful evening and a great way to start Christmas. Highly recommended.
9 OUT OF 10
All images used are property of © The Flying Music Company Ltd / The Flying Music Group Ltd 2005. All rights reserved.
For information about The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas, please visit their official website.