July 20, 2008

‘Rat Pack’ Show Offers Night With 60s Icons

By Alice T. Carter, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 20--According to Sandy Hackett, you can thank God for the return of the Rat Pack.

Hackett is the producer and creator of and occasional performer in "The Rat Pack Is Back!" -- a musical and comedic tribute to show business legends Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Dean Martin.

The show, which begins an eight-performance run Tuesday at Heinz Hall, reprises the music, laughter and personalities that made The Rat Pack a signature part of 1960s pop culture.

Only, rather than returning audiences to an evening in the 1960s at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Hackett brings the quartet of performers into our own era for one more appearance.

"The premise is that God sent the guys to do one more show because the guys were having too much fun (in Heaven) and keeping God awake," Hackett explains on the phone from Los Angeles where he makes his home. "God sends them back so he can clean up the joint (Heaven)."

Audiences hear the voice of God (actually the recorded voice of Hackett's late father, comedian Buddy Hackett) exhorting the guys to do one more return performance.

That premise allowed Hackett to update the comedy and give it a contemporary context.

The jokes may be contemporary, but the show's musical offerings are some of the golden oldies that became signature songs for these performers. Among them are Sinatra standards such as "You Make Me Feel So Young,""One for My Baby,""A Foggy Day" and "All of Me" as well as Martin's "That's Amore" and Davis' "Mr. Bojangles."

Backing them up is a 12-piece band performing orchestrations right out of the period.

The inspiration for the show came from one of the Rat Pack members -- Joey Bishop.

Bishop, a family friend, called the younger Hackett to tell him HBO was going to make a movie about The Rat Pack and that Hackett would be the perfect person to play Bishop.

Hackett didn't get the part. It had already been cast. But it started him thinking about creating something to pay homage to the four performers.

Hackett was aware that British actor Stephen Triffitt had created a similar live stage show "The Rat Pack -- Live at the Sands" (it played at Heinz Hall in 2006 as a special presentation of PNC Broadway Across America--Pittsburgh), but he was unimpressed.

"Those were English actors playing American people. There was no Joey Bishop and no comedy. It missed the point -- fun. These guys did this for fun," says Hackett. "This is about music, comedy and relationships."

Hackett studied hours of footage of The Rat Pack in action and talked extensively with his father and Bishop before creating his show.

"This captures the essence of what they did. When you leave you will think 'This is how they were'," Hackett says.


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