Gateway Playhouse takes a chance by presenting just the second summer show in its 62-year history that wasn't created in-house. But producer Paul Allan doesn't regard this as a gamble. Direct from Las Vegas, "The Rat Pack Is Back!" makes its Long Island debut with Friday night's official opening following three previews.
In 14 years and 5,000 performances, "Rat Pack" -- a re-creation of the legendary 1960s Sand Hotel "summit" performances by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop -- has sold more than 1.5 million tickets. That doesn't include tours, such as the one playing in Bellport through July 14, that have taken "Rat Pack" to 40 states and three countries.
SINATRA SWOON "We did 'My Way' a few seasons back," recalls Allan of the 2007 Sinatra revue, "and it went really well for us. So we put 'Rat Pack' on our audience survey last summer, and it got a huge response."
The only question, says Allan, was "Which 'Rat Pack?' "
The Gateway producer found there are competing touring shows, including one produced by a former member of the Vegas cast. Rather than booking a "Rat Pack tribute," Allan said he decided to go for "the real thing," still playing at the Rio Hotel near the Vegas Strip.
"Rat Pack" producer Dick Feeney says of his show: "You can relive the glory days of Vegas, when Frank, Sammy, Joey and Dean reigned supreme as kings of cool." (Actor Peter Lawford was another Rat Pack compadre, but he was no song-and-dance man. So he didn't join the Sands act. Bishop, the last of the Rat Packers, died in 2007.)
PLAYING LEGENDS Trying to approximate Sinatra in his prime is only a little less daunting today because memories fade after 50 years. Robbie Howard took on the challenge after breaking in with his own Vegas show, "Stars of the Strip." Kenny Jones, who plays Davis, calls "Mr. Showmanship" a lifelong idol. Crooning and swigging cocktails (probably iced tea) is Johnny Edwards as Martin, an impression he performs in solo gigs as well. Dennis Blair, once a Rodney Dangerfield protégé -- he co-wrote and appeared in Dangerfield's "Easy Money" -- plays Bishop.
Among the songs from the Sands you'll hear in "Rat Pack," are Martin's "That's Amoré," "That Old Black Magic," one of Davis' signatures, and several Sinatra favorites, among them "Luck Be a Lady" and "The Lady Is a Tramp." While Bishop joined in the Pack's big-finish choruses, he mostly supplied the show's laughs.
The only previous show Gateway imported for its summer season was a circus, 2007's "Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy" -- also from Vegas.
WHAT "The Rat Pack Is Back!"
WHEN | WHERE Thursday at 2 and 8 p.m., Friday and Tuesday nights at 8, Saturday at 3 and 8:30 p.m. (no show July 4), through July 14 at Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport
TICKETS $52-$58; gatewayplayhouse.com, 631-286-1133