The Rat Pack Review – 5 stars

I had heard the names of Dean Martin (1917-1995), Sammy Davis Jr. (1900-1988), and Frank Sinatra (1915-1998). I even knew some of their songs, but I didn’t know any of their antics. I had a sense that they represented a part of American culture that “everybody’s parents knew.” That is, everyone but my parents. My father listened to opera (Aida, anyone?) and my mother was an immigrant from Germany who hadn’t caught up with icons in the United States.

I grew up with the 1980’s “Brat Pack” and I knew it was a play on the “Rat Pack,” but I didn’t know what that was or who was in it. Seeing The Rat Pack at the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston for its “back by popular demand,” one-time-only staging was more than a historical trip down memory lane, especially since it wasn’t part of my history, it was an opportunity to have a window into a bygone era and learn about a part of American culture that included these interesting, comical, talented men.

Even if you don’t know who the Rat Pack is, you probably know of Saturday Night Live, the TV soap opera General Hospital, the movies Moonstruck (starring Cher, 1987) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (starring Gene Wilder, 1971), or the musicals Guys and Dolls and Bye Bye Birdie. Since they emerged in the 60’s, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, and the songs they made famous, have been incorporated into many genres for every generation from spoofs to musical scores. Their songs are that memorable and that much part of the American culture.

Before my friend and I even entered the door, we could feel the excitement. Rows of buses heralded a continuous line of folks entering the theater. The lobby was packed. As we entered the theater twenty minutes before curtain call, it was probably one of the few times when the back of this house was lined with folded walkers and wheelchairs, and an elevator break-down was a major catastrophe. Sure, there were people reliving their teenage years when the real Dean, Sammy, and Frank were alive, but there were also young folks. Maybe they were sharing a moment with a grandparent and maybe they were musicians; there to admire the people whose classic standards continue to be popular today.

Andy DiMino, Lambus Dean, and Gary Anthony, do a stunning job impersonating Dean, Sammy, and Frank in this tribute show. They look like their counterparts and they act like they are at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, only they have been transported from the late 1960’s/early 1970’s and dropped into Waltham, 2012. Their jokes were updated to today’s era and they even referred to Hurricane Sandy, the Patriots, and the Mass Pike.

The seven-piece band of local musicians specializing in the jazz and big band sound included a grand piano, three-piece brass section, drums, and upright bass. The piano playing was as memorable as the lyrics… a few strikes or the keys and you know you’ve heard that song before.

Wearing a black tuxedo with bow tie, cuff links, and a red handkerchief tucked into the breast pocket, Andy DiMino appeared “direct from the bar” as Mr. Dean Martin holding a cigarette in his right hand and a glass of whisky in his left. In between singing, in his husky voice, songs like, “Everyone Loves Somebody Sometime” and “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” from Guys and Dolls, DiMino told jokes in the way, I assume, Dean Martin would. His well-placed pauses cued the audience that they needed to think about what he just said – or let their minds wander into the proverbial gutter – because there’ a joke in there. And, the jokes were funny without ever using a cuss word, although alluding to many. Andy DiMino’s mannerisms and the way he held himself made me feel like what it must have been like to see the real Dean Martin, and he was handsome, too. He spoke about being Italian and sang, “Volare” without really needing to sing the chorus, since the full house crowd was singing right along with him. I’m only going to reveal one joke in this review, you’ll have to see the show next time it is in town to hear the rest. Dean’s obvious indulgence in drinking was a source of gentle ribbing by cast members, and he acknowledged it when he joked about going to Mt. Rushmore, “It has my four favorite Presidents, two who were stoned and two who were on the rocks.”

With the sax player, Jeff Leonard, conducting and counting beat, Lambus Dean danced out as Mr. Sammy Davis, Jr. singing, “For Once in My Life.” Looking a little disheveled, or at least like he’d had a long night, his tuxedo sported a loose bow tie and unbuttoned jacket, making it possible for him to do soft shoe moves and shake his hips. You can tell he influenced the late, great, Michael Jackson. While holding the cordless microphone, it was easy to see the seven “diamond” rings and the “bling” around his neck in the form of a Star of David symbolizing his conversion to Judaism after a car accident which left him blind in one eye. The crowd went wild when he sang, “Candy Man” and, knowing the age of his audience, he gently tossed out lollipops to the crowd. He announced that this song made him rich in 1972, a year after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released as a major film. “I’ve Got a lot of Living to Do” from Bye Bye Birdie and “Mr. Bojangles” were among Sammy’s well-loved songs that Dean captured so well in his characterization.

Part of the fun, even if you don’t know the songs, is hearing the audience sing along and also answer (call and response style) or yell out to their “idols”, such lines as, “Sing, ‘Lady is a Tramp.'” Gary Anthony captured something about Mr. Frank Sinatra that put a spell on the audience. In his neat matching tuxedo, he gained applause just for putting on a fedora! Must be a trademark thing. I couldn’t help, but smile. Anthony certainly pulled at heartstrings when he sang Sinatra’s songs, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “I’ve Got the World on a String.” He “flew to the moon” and “did it his way,” too, and the audience loved it.

After each actor introduced their character, told jokes, and sang a few songs, they then worked in duets for classics, such as, “Me and My Shadow” and “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You.” Andy DiMino, Lambus Dean, and Gary Anthony combined their singing and dancing talent to portray Dean, Sammy, and Frank performing, “That’s Life,” “Mack the Knife,” and “New York, New York.”

Who would be famous enough from my youth that a tribute group would make me swoon over a look-alike? In the future, would today’s generation jostle for a Justin Bieber pretender, Justin Timberlake impersonator, or One Direction ensemble? Even though these weren’t the real, living, breathing Dean, Sammy, and Frank, we willingly suspended our disbelief to see this era and the characters come back to life. You don’t even need to know who they are, to enjoy this hoot and rollick with songs you didn’t know these guys made famous. It’s not surprising it was a sell-out show.

For more information contact the Reagle Music Theater in Waltham:

Andy DiMino (Dean Martin) is a natural when it comes to bringing ol’ Dino back to life. With career experience as a musician, songwriter, recording artist, actor and stage performer, Dimino has focused his attention on the music and comedy style of Dean Martin. Recently returning from a triumphant six-week showroom engagement at the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City, he earned reviews that echoed the same positive response he received in San Francisco, Detroit, Boston and Berlin, Germany: “Andy DiMino is a brilliantly conceived, uncanny total embodiment of Martin.”

Lambus Dean (Sammy Davis Jr.) began his professional singing career in Chicago in 1977. He has portrayed Sam Cooke on stage, performed as Lazarus with the Mary Matthews Gospel Repertory Theater Company, and fronted a vocal group called “Touch of Silk” in Las Vegas, where he moved in 1998. He began portraying Sammy Davis Jr. in 2001 and has traveled all over the country in various tribute shows. Most recently he and three other singers have formed the group The Vegas Tenors.

Gary Anthony (Frank Sinatra) has been one of Vegas’ most in demand Sinatra impersonators since moving to the Entertainment Capital of the World in 1994. A native of Los Angeles, Anthony grew up in a musical family headed by his father, a big band director. Music came naturally to the third of 11 children, and although the performer also sings as himself, even as a child Anthony knew that “Frank was the man.”

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is an award-winning regional theater company that features Broadway stars performing alongside local talent. The 43-year-old non-profit organization operates year-round, producing major musicals each summer, spectacular seasonal revues, and celebrity concerts featuring legendary entertainers. Stars who have appeared at Reagle include Patrick Cassidy, John Davidson, Robert Goulet, Shirley Jones, Patti LuPone, Ann Margaret, Andrea McArdle, Lee Meriwether, The Mills Brothers, Sarah Pfisterer, Debbie Reynolds, Sally Struthers, Tommy Tune, Leslie Uggams, Joanne Worley, and Rachel York.