Come fly with me: ‘Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show’ at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope

rat packBy John Dwyer

A Rat Pack show, of course, makes one think of Vegas and Atlantic City — slick, yet tacky. Funny, and a little coarse. If we were on the boardwalk, we would be looking at the next casino for the Flying Elvises, the celebrity drag show and the magic act.

If you go to “Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show,” and expect a typical Broadway show (like “Jersey Boys”), you will be disappointed. But if you go expecting to be entertained, you will get what you paid for, and come away with an appreciation of the magic that was generated when Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop performed together, and their audience was privy to the best party in town.

There is no plot really.  “Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show” is like watching a tribute band with a lot more patter between sets. Or attending one of those Rockin’ to the Fifties shows that you often see as a PBS fundraiser.

The person behind me was tapping their foot throughout and singing along, just like you see when cameras pan the audience. Initially, I found this groupie annoying, but it was evidence that she was having a great time (and if “crazy person” is rocking with the oldies, maybe I will). PBS utilizes the same nostalgia concert format to raise money, and the entire audience seems entranced and mouthing the words, and at break, PBS rakes in the moola, because people love this stuff.

But when you are channeling dead entertainers, there is a hurdle to overcome: the audience is looking to see and listening to hear similarities between the performers and the dearly departed. None of the performers really look like who they impersonate.  But they are all talented, and Angelo Babbaro has an incredible voice, and sounds like Frank Sinatra.

There are other similarities between the performers and their counterparts, but of course their own individual style does creep through. Kenny Jones as Sammy Davis, Jr., has that magnificent range and power that Davis had. He is a powerhouse singer in his own right, as evidenced in “That Old Black Magic” and “What Kind of Fool Am I.”   Tom Wallek as Dean is very funny, and of the three singers, has the greatest gift for ad lib.

But the scene-stealer is Sandy Hackett, son of Buddy Hackett, who plays Joey Bishop. In the first act, his appearances are between solo offerings sung by Frank, Dean and Sammy. In the second act, the metaphorical blind date accepted by giving this show a chance becomes affirmed as a good choice when the performers go off-script with each other, and start to involve the audience. In fact, the best part of the show is witnessing the chemistry between these accomplished performers as they ad lib — just like their better known predecessors.   I

Imagine that it is the early sixties, and the air becomes electric as those superstars went off the reservation and behaved like best friends. And when I saw that happening in Act Two of “Rat Pack,” the party really started. At the same time, audience members Joe and Joan Smith, who were celebrating their 66thwedding anniversary that evening, were led from the rear  of the theater to front table seats.  It was charming and funny, and just how, I am sure, the Chairman of the Board and his cohorts would have done it. It was then when they had me.

I did not start to sing along.  Shoot me if I ever do that. But my head did start to bob by the end when Frankie, Dino, Sammy and Joey sang “The Birth of the Blues.”  So, if you’re like me, and love the standards of the fifties and sixties, come to the Sands Casino, I mean Bucks County Playhouse, where the singing is swinging, the band is grand, and the schtick is quick. “Who loves you, baby? Badda bing, badda boom.”

“Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show” runs through Oct. 18 at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St., in New Hope. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (215) 862-2121.

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