Review by Greg Haymes
“The good news is… I’m not singing tonight.” – Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings, during his introductory remarks
“This is exactly what it was like in the old days – except completely different,” proclaimed Tom Wallek as Dean Martin at the Palace Theatre on Thursday evening. And he was right.
While “Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show” had the veneer of an early ’60s Vegas flashback tribute act, the show was clearly in the here and now, mostly thanks to the constant jokes and jabs from Sandy Hackett, who undeniably stole the show in his role as Joey Bishop, the constant cut-up, the court jester to the Chairman and his board.
While the obvious greatest-hits setlist and snappy tuxedos were clearly vintage, the jokes referenced “Dancing With the Stars,” Sheryl Crow, “Brokeback Mountain” and Justin Beiber, along with multiple jabs at Viagra and Jerry Jenning’s tan. Clearly not the stuff of ’60s Vegas.
No matter, they were freewheelin’ onstage, and a little time/space continuum warpage added just the right touch of surrealism. I admittedly didn’t have high expectations for this show, but I ended up having a pretty good time. We’ve all heard impersonations of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. – at least those of us of a certain age have – and while these guys weren’t great, they did hold their own on stage for a two-hour show – not just a 30-second sound byte.
What really made the show work, however – in addition to Hackett’s relentless tomfoolery – was the onstage camaraderie between the actor-singer-impersonators. There was a genuine rapport. And, yes, Louie Velez (as Davis) wasn’t really cracking up at every semi-silly thing that Sinatra (Danny Grewen) or Martin said. But maybe sometimes he was…
And that’s why despite some solid solo songs throughout the night, it was the ensemble numbers that stood above the rest. Yeah, the schtick was sometimes a bit too thick, but it kept things moving along. The energy and the pacing never flagged during the ensemble numbers – the opening “Hello Again” and “My Kind of Town” or the second act gang songs “Luck Be a Lady” and “Mack the Knife.” It also meant that there was so much going on that you didn’t really focus on the minor impersonation flaws of the individual performers.
The ensemble numbers also worked best because Hackett so obviously overpowered his fellow actor-singer-impersonators in one-on-ones. The lack of balance was somewhat unsettling because it just doesn’t make sense – even in a surreal world – to imagine Sinatra playing second fiddle to Joey Bishop.
And I really don’t know what Lisa Dawn Miller was doing onstage in the role of “Frank’s One Love,” other than to say that A) her dad Ron Miller wrote “For Once in My Life,” B) she’s married to Sandy Hackett and C) she’s the producer of the show. She wasn’t bad, but her brief second act appearance just seemed to come out of nowhere. It broke up the tempo and disrupted boys’ club vibe.
The show was pumped up as a fundraiser for the Palace, and more than 1,500 turned out for the show, raising about $50,000. Not bad at all for a show that was postponed twice due to lack of ticket sales.
QUOTE OF NOTE
“Young people? The whole second row looks like the Lawrence Welk tour bus broke down.” – Tom Wallek as Dean Martin