‘The Rat Pack is Back’ and ‘Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show’

As Sammy Davis Jr. (played by Doug Starks) tells you from the edge of the stage in "Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show," "Being in this business we call show calls for a lot of choices to be made."

Indeed, being a Las Vegas consumer calls for even a choice between two Rat Pack tributes.

Staggered show times do make it possible to see both of them back to back (Hackett’s Joey Bishop tries to joke off his show’s rough 5 p.m. slot at the Sahara). But only a stunt reviewer seeking a direct, head-on comparison would do such a cuckoo thing.

The main findings of this double-feature? A remarkable amount of repetition. So much that it’s perhaps historic, as if two productions of "Jersey Boys" decided to go head to head.

These two aren’t quite that identical. But they are the same by more than half, beyond the basic formula for saluting Frank Sinatra and pallies in their Sands-era prime: short solo segments for each character (with frequent interruptions), building to a summit at the booze cart.

It makes better sense if you know the two shows are products of a bitter divorce.

Hackett opened his show (subtitled "Shadows in the Desert") amid back-and-forth lawsuits late last year, after performer and co-partner Hackett left "The Rat Pack Is Back" in a blowup with producer Dick Feeney.

But the innocents always suffer, and this divorce is confusing for consumers. Disputed authorship has both sides clinging to comic routines not sourced to the old live recordings, such as a costumed Lone Ranger and Tonto sketch or a squirt-gun enhanced "A Foggy Day in London Town."

The duplication makes the whole feud way more silly than the four Beatles-related shows on the Strip, which are entirely different beyond the music.

Hackett does forge new ground by adding two obscure songs from late composer Ron Miller, father of Hackett’s wife and co-producer, Lisa Dawn Miller. Both come off as left turns; even sharper, I would venture, if they stay in the shorter cut of the show (I saw the full 100-minute version offered on Tuesdays, the day off for roommate magician Rick Thomas).

The torchy "Wasn’t I a Good Time" at least makes sense within the context of Miller’s extraneous cameo as "Frank’s one love." "Will I Still Be Me?" is more a bait-and-switch; Starks sets up "Mr. Bojangles" before veering into ’70s-melodrama of the "Don’t Cry Out Loud" school. But it’s prime material for Starks to wow ’em with Sammy over-the-topness.

Hackett retains exclusive use of his late father Buddy’s voice in a well-done opening video. And of course he’s still entitled to dress like a geisha. But his seniority throws disproportionate gravity to the Joey Bishop character, when Sinatra is supposed to be center focus.

Instead, David DeCosta’s charmless Sinatra comes in a distant fourth behind Hackett, an earnest Starks and Tony Basile’s playful Dean Martin. The would-be ring-a-ding is sometimes inaudible and almost always forced, beyond Hackett’s welcome ad libs.

Hackett’s show obviously would be stronger without competition for the better players. Both shows are really only as good as the people in them, and neither makes you any guarantees. Hackett was even missing from his namesake title for weeks, performing in a San Francisco edition.

Likewise, Feeney’s "A team" sometimes hits the road for "Rat Pack" theater bookings. For the summer at least, they’re entrenched at the Plaza and running circles around their rivals.

Brian Duprey, always a solid crooner, has learned to talk like the Chairman and carry himself with Sinatra swagger. Drew Anthony is a near ringer for the young, sexy Dean Martin. Kenny Jones nails Davis’ singing without caricature and Mickey Joseph manages to look a bit like the sour Bishop while playing the court jester.

Beyond the cast, the Plaza "Rat Pack" has a bigger horn section in the live band, the added ambience of a genuine retro showroom and the old-fashioned option of a steak before the show.

The courts might ultimately settle this feud. But at least on this one Tuesday? To put it Rat Pack-ly, the Plaza was the gasser, the Sahara just a Harvey.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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