‘The Rat Pack Is Back — The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean’

A worthy show deserved a better room. A neglected venue deserved a worthy show. Could this be an affair that’s gonna go somewhere?

Brian Duprey’s Frank Sinatra character is likely to keep singing “Ding-dong the bells are gonna chime” either way. “The Rat Pack Is Back” is a durable tribute show that’s held tough in various forms for a nine-year ride through three prior hotels.

Home base for the past few years was the Greek Isles, a respectable little room if you could find it. Now producer Dick Feeney has moved the crew downtown to a Plaza showroom which — thanks to a rare case of benign neglect over demolition — was more or less frozen in time since 1971.

Previous management was sensitive to the old-Vegas vibe when they gave the room a much-needed face-lift in 2004, for a Dick Clark revue that never materialized. It hasn’t been used enough since to scuff up the carpet, much less vanquish the memories of Bob “Gilligan” Denver and other dinner-theater greats who once trod the boards.

Now, when you walk up the red steps under the spangled old chandelier, the room pulls you into the mood for a Rat Pack show just as well as the pricey custom “Zumanity” theater sets a cabaret vibe.

And the “Rat Pack” tribute? It plays well in the room, but otherwise has the same strengths and weaknesses it had at the Greek Isles. This is not an easy premise to pull off.

For one thing, it’s an expensive “budget” show. You need a 12-piece band and three people at least within the ballpark of impersonating the iconic talents of Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

They need to be a little good at acting, not just singing. It took Dean Martin a long time to nail that comical cool absence of effort, which Johnny Edwards has yet to dial down to.

Duprey looks a lot like Sinatra and sounds enough like him if you don’t factor in nuance. But does he own the place? Where’s the swagger? Outside the singing, he’s reduced to playing sheepish straight man to Sandy Hackett as Joey Bishop.

Do you try to slavishly imitate the stars? If not, how far can you stray if you’re a talented performer who doesn’t sound much like Davis? Kyle Diamond pulls it off with “Mr. Bojangles.”

But the show is smart about these things, as it should be by now. Hackett has become the guiding force and unifying bond of the revue (which also explains the elevated role of Bishop, who called himself “the mouse” of the Rat Pack). He also came up with some crafty sight gags, which sidestep a lot of the racist humor of the real “Summit at the Sands,” and avoid rote recitations of the actual stage recordings.

And if more misdirection is called for still, there’s always the surprise cameo by Marilyn Monroe (Stacy Nicole), with a lap dance that sends a lucky retiree’s blood pressure into the danger zone.

Opening narration recorded by Hackett’s late father Buddy, as the voice of God, still sets up a “Forever Plaid” premise that reunites the gang “for one more show,” and allows them to do anachronistic late-career tunes such as “Theme from New York, New York.”

There are probably better people out there doing this, but you’re not going to get three of them for a $57 ticket (or $71 with dinner in the room, old-Vegas style).

The real make-or-break test is whether, after the first half-hour or so, you can forget about the real Rat Pack and accept this bunch at face value. For most old-Vegas enthusiasts, you’d be a real Clyde for all not to be forgiven by the time the booze cart rolls out.

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

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