People who bought tickets to The Rat Pack: Live at the Sands expecting celebrity impersonators doing spot-on imitations of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin may have been disappointed.
Those looking for fine singers performing great songs and stylistically summoning the ghosts of a bygone era had to be enthralled.
The opening night crowd at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Carol Morsani Hall was almost all in that second group. The house was comfortably full, and the audience treated the pseudo-Pack to hoots, hollers and standing ovations.
For the most part, the reaction was deserved. Stephen Triffitt, David Hayes and Mark Adams came close enough to the real Frank, Sammy and Dino to lead the audience back 45 years or so, to when the Rat Pack ruled Vegas.
They were portraying the originals more than imitating them. Hayes, as Davis, came closest to being imitative, probably because Davis had such an exaggerated style and persona.
Backed by an absolutely phenomenal 15-piece band and three female backup singers (referred to once as "broads") on a glitzy and colorfully lit set, performances of more than 30 songs helped recreate the legendary nightclub act.
Almost all the music was great.
Sinatra's songs were the highlights: I've Got You Under My Skin, Angel Eyes and Mack the Knife were especially thrilling. Triffitt captured the smoothness of Sinatra's delivery. Adams did a fine job summoning Dino's good-matured crooning and relaxed demeanor in Volare and That's Amore. Hayes admirably captures Davis' stage personality. But through Act 1, he repeatedly forgot to sing into the microphone.
The music was often close to magical, especially on the rare and brief segments in which the band was allowed to let loose.
The nonmusical segments were another story. The jokes about Dino's drinking were puerile even back in the '60s, and they haven't improved with age. And the jokes about Davis' race and religion now seem tasteless and mean spirited.
They're both an integral part of the milieu, and they needed to be in this show. That doesn't make them any more fun to listen to, but it does help the show create an illusion that the audience is part of a legendary, significant and long-gone moment in American pop culture.