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'The Rat Pack Is Back' review: Epitomizes elegance

Direct from Las Vegas,

Direct from Las Vegas, "The Rat Pack Is Back" makes its Long Island premiere June 27-July 14, 2012, at Gateway Playhouse, Bellport. Credit: HANDOUT

While the Rat Pack never played Long Island, the Vegas import now swaggering on stage at Gateway Playhouse declares loudly: "The Rat Pack Is Back!"

In case you forgot or are too young to remember, here's a Rat Pack primer: In 1959, Frank Sinatra and his drinking buddies gathered in Las Vegas to shoot a movie. Apparently, they had time on their hands. Besides partying until dawn, they performed two shows nightly in the Copa Room of the Sands hotel/casino. Billed as "The Summit" -- a self-inflating reference to the Eisenhower-Khrushchev confab -- the show starred Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and, occasionally, Peter Lawford. The film was "Ocean's 11."

That most people today associate "Eleven" with the 2001 remake starring George Clooney is a measure of the Pack's antiquity. While its Chairman of the Board remains a familiar figure 14 years after his death, many people younger than 40 may not get the meticulous Gateway impersonations by Johnny Edwards (Martin), Kenny Jones (Davis) and Dennis Blair (Bishop).

Even if you do, you may not appreciate Dick Feeney's scripted jokes. Yes, Dean Martin got laughs for behaving like a drunk. But that gets old long before Edwards staggers about with a martini glass the size of a punch bowl. Still relevant, however, are Davis' remarks as an African-American Jew about bias. (He's against calling their foursome "The Clan.") Blair's stone-faced Bishop is stuck with a dopey shtick -- begging for respect in a way only Rodney Dangerfield successfully mined.

Edwards' happy-drunk renditions of "Volare" and "That's Amoré" evoke a certain retro charm. Jones knocks Davis' Broadway hit "What Kind of Fool Am I?" out of the park. But the arrangement is too abbreviated.

Director Robbie Howard presents a relatively mature Sinatra. His mannerisms and phrasing are imitative without being insincere, even on his revisionist "My Kind of Town ("Long Island Is)." While no one could be as smooth, Howard approximates Sinatra's "My Way" defiance.

Such impersonations would fall flat without a touch of class. The Long Island-based Black Tie Affair Orchestra, led by Lon Bronson, epitomizes elegance in 15-piece splendor.

WHAT "The Rat Pack Is Back!"

WHEN | WHERE 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through July 14, Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport

TICKETS $52-$58; gatewayplayhouse.com, 631-286-1133

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