Review: Performers shackled by dated, offensive ‘Rat Pack’
SCHENECTADY “Christmas with the Rat Pack” is a time capsule of a show, set in the early 1960s at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
It features Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin (played, respectively, by Tam Ward, Jason Pennycook and Nigel Casey) singing not only some of their greatest hits of the day, but some Christmas standards, as well. It attempts to be as true to one of their shows as possible, with a big band in the background, a scantily-clad singing and dancing sister act for the men to sing with (and chase after) and all the witty banter the time period had to offer.
The performance itself was done very well, with the men embodying their given characters with gusto. None especially looked like the singers, but they did well with the songs — Ward especially had his Sinatra impersonation honed to perfection. Pennycook’s Sammy Davis Jr. was an excellent dancer and performer — his tap number (and quick turn on the drums) had the audience cheering in appreciation. The three men singing Sinatra’s signature “New York, New York” was a definite highlight, as their voices worked well together and the song always brings a smile to people’s faces.
If viewed as it’s meant — as nothing more than a night of sheer enjoyment — then perhaps the show is enjoyable. However, if viewed from a 21st century point of view, it’s sadly dated and somewhat offensive. Perhaps for older audience members, who grew up with this being the norm, it doesn’t bother them, but I can’t imagine too many younger audience members attending this performance and not leaving with a bitter taste in their mouth for the sexism (the treatment of the sister act on stage) or the dated “my mother-in-law is so terrible” jokes or the constant joking about alcoholism (I realize this was Dean Martin’s schtick, but making continual jokes about a performer so drunk he’s falling down and unable to remember his fellow performers’ names or his lyrics is no longer something joked about in polite society) or the dated racism and anti-Semitism.
Listening to audience members laugh about these things was curious; were they laughing at the jokes or the memory of a time when jokes like this were allowed?
The audience enjoying the show a great deal were, for the most part, of the age that they would have been able to see Martin, Sinatra and Davis perform, so perhaps this was an enjoyable look into the past for them. I couldn’t help but think it showed how far we’ve come as a society and that I would have enjoyed the show more had it been just the music and not a peek into a past I’m glad I wasn’t yet alive to see.