‘Rat Pack’ tribute at Tropicana Atlantic City a swinging affair
The weekly presentation is a winning blend of nostalgia, laughs and classic American pop music
A ring-a-ding time is guaranteed for all who attend a performance of Rat Pack: Back in Town, the lively production show that runs every Sunday through April 26 at Tropicana Atlantic City.
To be sure, no artistic horizons are breached by this breezy tribute to three of show business’ most iconic figures (four, actually, counting the unexpected inclusion of a Marilyn Monroe segment); tributes to the trio of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin have been a gaming-industry staple for a generation or more. But that’s irrelevant as the combination of the show’s impressively gifted cast and first-rate staging arguably makes Back in Town the best “Rat Pack” program Atlantic City has ever seen.
To truly appreciate and enjoy Rat Pack: Back in Town requires the understanding that Sinatra, Davis and Martin possessed singular talents that can never be exactly replicated. So those seeking absolute clones needn’t bother. But all three stars—Brian Duprey (Sinatra), Kenny Jones (Davis) and Joe Scalissi do an excellent job of suggesting what the experience of seeing the three giants on the same bill was like.
Each performer brings with him noteworthy abilities. Duprey absolutely owns Sinatra’s easy swagger and non-traditional phrasing while offering a vocal impersonation that is certainly a more-than-satisfactory approximation of Sinatra’s sonic fingerprint.
Jones’ turn as the multi-talented Davis is probably the first among equals, if only because he is the first Davis mimic this reviewer can remember seeing who plays drums, as Davis did in his act.
As for the closest aural rendering, that belongs to Scalissi, whose tone and timbre are remarkably similar to Martin’s.
The illusion is enhanced by the lead performers’ likenesses to their subjects. Again, no one would mistake any of them for those they portray, but they all share basic physical characteristics with the individuals they play.
The same can be said for Jamie Duprey’s unexpected turn as Monroe. Done up in “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” drag, Duprey (Brian’s wife) scores physically and vocally. Historical nitpickers will note that Monroe was never a full-blown “Rat Packer,” but many experts agree she and Sinatra were both friends and lovers. And her inclusion adds extra feminine charm to a male-centric presentation.
Of course, one can attend simply to hear top-shelf renditions of numerous pop standards including “That’s Amore,” “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime” and “Ain’t That A Kick In the Head” from the Martin canon, “The Candy Man,” “Mr. Bojangles” and “That Old Black Magic” (Davis) and “New York, New York,” “My Way” and “It Was A Very Good Year” (Sinatra).
Rat Pack: Back in Town also benefits from excellent staging and super-quick pacing (not surprising, since Allen Valentine, the undisputed king of AyCee revues, is the creator-producer. The eye-catching costumes were designed by his wife, Kristine, who also dances in the show). The streamlined set recalls the mid-20th-century elegance of the venues at which the real Rat Packers tended to perform. And the cast of 17 supporting players (a fabulous and fabulously versatile nine-piece band and six female and two male dancers) help the show fill up the huge Tropicana theater stage—something many previous revues presented there failed to do.
The biggest issue with Rat Pack: Back in Town is one that can’t be resolved: The stars’ legendary early-‘60s gigs were packed with the kinds of gags that today are labeled “politically incorrect.” As such, the show isn’t as historically accurate—nor as humorously raunchy--as it would have been in less-enlightened times: At one point, Scalissi (as Martin) claims his wife promised “Olympian sex.” He then explains he “didn’t realize that meant every four years.” That’s about as risqué as things get.
But that certainly isn’t a reason for missing this 75 minutes of music and mirth.
Tropicana Atlantic City, Boardwalk at Brighton Avenue; 4 p.m. Sunday through April 26; $25; for tickets, click here.