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That old ring-a-ding-ding still shines
Wednesday, 05 April 2017 10:15

‘The Rat Pack’ show swings despite lacking Sammy fill-in

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HENDERSONVILLE — “The Music of the Rat Pack,” featuring hits by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and (at least in theory) Sammy Davis Jr., was often toe-tapping, finger-snapping fun during a swinging performance of the tribute show on March 17 at Flat Rock Playhouse’s downtown Hendersonville venue.

Highlights included an unforgettable rendition of Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” with two of the singers providing ethereal falsetto backup harmony, to a terifically bluesy lead, a spot-on version of Sinatra’s “My Way” and a cover of Martin’s “Sway” that captured the song’s essence.

The show, which ran May 9-19, mainly featured songs by Sinatra, with a sprinkling of Martin — and, sadly, only “That Old Black Magic” by Davis.

Of the three featured singers, Matt Faucher resembled Sinatra — and Adair Watkins looked somewhat like Martin.However, the other key member of the Rat Pack — Davis, a 5-foot-5 African-American who not only could sing but could dance magnificently — was not represented. Indeed, Greg Frens, the third singer in FRP’s version of the Rat Pack, is a bearded and very tall white man.

Frens did not resemble Davis or any of the Rat Pack members, even the extended version that included Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.To his credit, Frens has a powerful voice and admirably sang his share — and more — of the show’s renditions of songs.

Early in the show, Faucher noted that, “obviously,” it is “not a traditional tribute act,” in that Davis was not represented in the trio, but that the show instead was intended as a more general tribute, emphasizing the music and vocals of the Rat Pack.

The two-set, two-hour show ended with “New York, New York,” which triggered a standing ovation from the roughly two-thirds filled auditorium that seats 250 people.

The singers and band stayed on stage, bowing, and then asked the auidence if it would like to hear one more song. The crowd cheered for an encore.

The group then launched into “My Way,” which could be said to be Sinatra’s signature song. The audience once again stood to applaud, but this time the singers and band bowed —and left the stage for good.

The tight-sounding band was top-notch and included Nathan Hefner, keyboards; David Gaines, synthesizer; Bill Altman, guitar (and the show’s music director); Ryan Guerra, bass; and Paul Babelay, drums.

During the performance of the songs, the trio members often would take turns singing the verses, while, on other songs, there would just be one lead singer. A show highlight for the vocalists was their impeccable three-part harmony and ability to sing falsetto.

Earier, the show began after three dapper-looking men strode onto the stage, looking elegant in their black tuxedos, black bowties, black trousers and black shoes, accented by white shirts and white pocket squares.

The band struck up the music and the trio lauched into two Sinatra hits, beginning with “The Best Is Yet to Come,” followed by a sizzling “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” 

At that point, the singing trio noted that they are part of the group, The Garden State Guys, which got its start on the Flat Rock Playhouse stage in 2012 and has experienced much success ever since, performing a tribute to the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons all over the country.

They also noted that Valli and his group made “Ive Got You Under My Skin” a top 10 hit with their falsetto rendition in 1966. But it was Sinatra who made it one of his signature songs in 1956 with a definitive big-band arrangement by the late great Nelson Riddle.

The show’s third song was Bobby Darin’s 1959 classic “Beyond the Sea” — a bizarre choice, given that Darin was never accepted by the Rat Pack, according to a Darin biographer.

Other first-set songs included “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “Smile,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “Summer Wind,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Foggy Day,” “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” and “World on a String.” All of the songs were Sinatra hits, except for “Kick in the Head,” which was a Martin hit.

The second set began with “That Old Black Magic,” followed by “That’s All,” “For Once in My Life,” “Just in Time,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” a Dean Martin medley, :”When You’re Drinking,” “I Love Vegas,” “You’re Nobody ‘til Somebody Loves You,” “Nobody Reprise,” “Sway,” “Where or When,” “Come Fly With Me.” The regular show concluded with “New York, New York.”

Throughout the show, the vocal trio encouraged the audience to dance on the expansive floor in front of them, but the crowd seemed reluctant until later.

While the trio did a good job of mixing drinks and joking in the background during the songs (a la the Rat Pack), it was puzzling to see them without cigarettes in their hands. For Sinatra, Martin and Davis, cigarettes were ever-present.

And a pleasant surprise in the show was Faucher’s wife Anne Marie, who sang — movingly — several Rat Pack songs. She also was stunning-looking, with a red 1940s knee-lengrth dress — and her hair was styled in victory curls.

The otherwise terrific show would have been better with the addition of two of Martin’s greatest songs, “That’s Amore” and “Volare.” And it would have been wonderful to hear a rendtion of Davis’ version of  “Mr. Bojangles,” which became his signature song; along with his biggest-seller, “The Candy Man.” Also, it would have been a joy to hear other Davis hits, such as  “I’ve Gotta Be Me” and “What Kind of Fool Ami I?” 

Next for the Music on the Rock Series at the downtown Hendersonville venue are “The Music of Simon and Garfunkel” from March 30 to April 9 — and “The Music of Johnny Cash” from May 4 to 14.



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