Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Rat Pack is Back

I’ve said this before: if I had a time machine, I know exactly what I’d do with it.  No, I wouldn’t steal a sports almanac or try to get my parents to kiss at the big dance. I’ve already graduated high school, so I wouldn’t use it to pass my history final, either. No, I would head back in time at 88.8 miles per hour to the Copa Room at the Sands in 1960, to see the greatest show one could see for $5.95. Dinner included.

Like many of you, I have a decidedly romantic view of “old Vegas.” A time where women were ladies and comps were truly comps. When men wore hats (thanks for nothing, JFK).  And when you could see a legend performing in the lounge. Often for free.

I also have a decidedly romantic view of the mid-century crooners. Dean Martin, with a voice dark and syrupy like bourbon, and a total cheeseball when live on stage. Sammy Davis Jr., the most talented of them all, who could sing, dance, and act all his contemporaries under the table. And of course, the man himself: the Chairman of the Board, the one who made loneliness seem cool: Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra. When I want to relax for the evening, it’s an old fashioned in my glass and the Rat Pack on my stereo.

Despite peaking in Las Vegas 60 years prior, the Rat Pack is also inextricably intertwined with our Vegas trips today.  The men of The Summit provide the soundtrack to our early evenings. While we shower and dress for an evening on the town, pre-dinner cocktails in our hotel room glasses, Sammy, Frank, and Dino provide the soundtrack. No two days in Vegas are the same; but the Rat Pack is part of the ritual that binds them together for my wife and I. Indeed, the bellman has no sooner closed the door and my wife is asking me to turn on the Bluetooth speaker and put on music. Not just any music; our Vegas music.  The only music that will do.

When planning a recent trip, I mentioned to my wife that there was a Rat Pack impressionist show a little off strip. “And why haven’t we seen it yet?” Was her response.  

“The Rat Pack is Back” is not a new show to Vegas.   With a history of more than 20 years, the show was previously at several venues in Vegas, including the Rio and the Plaza before finding its current home at the Tuscany, just east of the Strip on Flamingo in 2015.  In fact, if you’ve seen the movie Get Him to the Greek, you’ve seen a little of the Rat Pack is Back show at the Plaza.  Russell Brand’s character musician stops by to see his dad, who is a drummer in the show.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I purchased our tickets to The Rat Pack is Back… Maybe 80 minutes or so of mediocre, karaoke-style covers of my favorite songs? What we experienced ended up being so much more, and it’s a show that we will definitely be returning to see again.

The Rat Pack is Back is performed in a small theater at the Tuscany in Las Vegas, in an intimate venue appropriately named “The Copa Room.” It features 3 impressionist performers, of which 2 are great and 1 is just okay.  (Our Dean Martin didn’t really look or sound like Dean Martin. I’m looking into whether he was out for the night, or just plain out.)

An especially enjoyable aspect of the show was the live, seven-piece band backing the trio.  I often caught myself watching the piano playing conductor as she guided the band through their various cues. True to their subjects, the band and impersonators often had moments of playful banter between them.

The Copa Room at the Tuscany is unfortunately a shadow of its namesake at the Sands, but this didn’t take away from our experience.  A relatively small-for-Vegas room, seating consists of movable “wedding venue” seats, with small cocktail tables between the front VIP tables. Lucky for us, the small size of the room contributes to a more intimate setting.  Seating is assigned by “area” and is first come, first serve. I paid for VIP seating, and we arrived early enough to be granted front row seats on stage right.  One gets the feeling you could slip the host a twenty for an upgrade, if you want to capture more of that old-school feeling. True to old Vegas form, there’s a bar in the theater and drink service during the show.  I was a little disappointed that there is not dinner served during the show, like the Sands shows of old.  The Tuscany offers an optional dinner package with The Rat Pack is Back tickets, but the meal is served in another location on the property, not in the Copa Room itself.  We opted for Bugsy and Meyers down the street at the Flamingo instead.

As I mentioned before, the quality of the impersonators was excellent. While Kyle Diamond doesn’t quite have Sammy Davis Jr’s squint, and Chris Jason is a little too much of an Italian goombah to be a dead ringer for Sinatra, the experience is close enough for me. The performers each have their own moments to shine, both solo and together on stage.  Songs are rarely performed all the way through, which serves to keep the show from stalling out. There’s canned banter amongst the performers, and if you’ve ever heard recordings of the Rat Pack, most of their dialogue is accurate. This leads to an early and probably necessary disclosure that this is a show that takes place in the middle of the previous century, and therefore has the humor to match. The jokes aren’t what I would call crude, but they certainly aren’t politically correct.  Some may consider this a criticism, others a feature.

Purists will note that not all of the song choices are accurate. Sammy Davis Jr. sings Mr. Bojangles, a song that wasn’t written until 1965, and he didn’t sing until 1972, and Sinatra sings the Theme from New York, New York, a song that was written in 1977 and recorded by Sinatra in ‘79.

There’s also a bit of early ‘60s eye candy, with a leotarded playboy bunny brought on stage to flirt and verbally parry with the men. I’ve been clear in other reviews that I appreciate the female form - especially in my Vegas shows - but her inclusion here felt almost gratuitous, as though the show’s creators felt that the Rat Pack is Back couldn’t stand on its own without some T and A.  I don’t think the bunny took away from the show, but I also don’t think she really added much to it either.

As always, we make it a point to cover the Audience Fuckery Factor in these reviews for the sake of our listeners who want to see shows, but don’t want to be the center of attention.  While we enjoyed our front seats, “Frank Sinatra” made a joke that I was banging on his door for 45 minutes the night before, until he finally let my wife out. We laughed, but you may not like light-hearted sexual assault jokes made about your spouse. There was another woman,  “Delores,” who was in the front, closer to center, and the performers made several jokes about her throughout the show. None were mean-spirited, and she seemed to enjoy the attention.  If you don’t, I would recommend requesting a seat three or more rows back.  This reminds me of another aspect of the show I really enjoyed: all three impersonators made it a point to head into the audience at the end to take pictures with the crowd, including Delores.  These days, it seems like every Vegas performer wants you to pay for a special VIP package to take photos or speak with you, but the fact that these guys came out to take some photos and chat with us without hesitation was a fun bonus.

All in all, I would definitely recommend the Rat Pack is Back, especially if you have a hunger for the Vegas of Old. I know that we will certainly make an effort to see it again. Showtimes are nightly at 7:30pm, but dark on Sundays. Tickets start at $90, but I recommend spending another $10 per person for the VIP seating, or you will be sitting along the perimeter of the room.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.