Back in the day, The Rat Pack was the coolest of the cool. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr… these cats ruled Las Vegas, packing out venues with their incomparable song, dance and comedy routines. This week, the First Group Theatre at Souk Madinat Jumeirah hopes to recreate those heady days, bringing all three Rat Packers back to the stage for a series of characteristically super-smooth performances. Not that there’s going to be a séance – rather, The Rat Pack Party show is coming from London, where three impersonators tap, sing and spread the joy of swing.
Jay Oxenham, tasked with convincing us as Frank Sinatra, says The Rat Pack Party is so-called because of its party atmosphere. ‘There’s no fourth wall,’ he says, on the phone to Time Out from London. ‘We really make the audience feel part of the show. We talk with the audience, we get them up and dancing and singing along. So they get involved. It’s great fun that way, rather than just being a spectator.’
Oxenham describes the show as a trip back in time. ‘It’s basically a re-enactment of the three guys at the Sands Hotel in Vegas,’ he says, name-checking one of The Rat Pack’s most favoured venues. It was here that a sign would read, ‘Dean Martin – maybe Frank – maybe Sammy’, referencing how Rat Pack members often turned up unannounced to sing at their fellow-Rat Packers individual shows. ‘It’s a big collection of songs,’ Oxenham continues. ‘It’s almost like watching the real Rat Pack in Vegas – that’s the feeling people will get.’
If Oxenham sounds confident about his own and his fellow showmen’s resemblance to The Rat Pack – an intimidatingly talented group of people to try and emulate – you might like to consider that he’s been playing Sinatra for nine years now. How does he go about getting into character? ‘To play anybody you have to understand that person as best you can,’ he replies. ‘There were a lot of hours of footage that I trawled through and watched to understand his mannerisms, the way he spoke, the way he interacted with others onstage.’ Oxenham’s a big believer in ‘to play the man, you must truly know the man’, so he studied Sinatra’s personal life, too. ‘I looked into his background and who he was and what his life was like,’ Oxenham explains. ‘Before I go onstage, when I’m having my hair and make-up done and whatever, I think about the kind of person he was, what he did, what he was about. By the time I’m finally ready, I am Frank Sinatra.’
Clearly it works. Oxenham’s had many a glowing review from show-goers who saw Sinatra back in the ’60s and ’70s. ‘They say to me, “You’re so close it’s unbelievable”,’ says Oxenham, audibly beaming down the phone line. ‘It’s a real nice compliment coming from people who have seen the real man.’
Of course it’s not all about Ol’ Blue Eyes. Show director Paul Tyrer says all three actors do a great job of not just singing the songs, but being the characters as well – important when so much of The Rat Pack Party rests on interplay between the three. ‘They had a reputation for working together as The Rat Pack and we’re trying to recreate that,’ Tyrer tells Time Out. ‘If you’ve ever seen the old footage of Frank, Dean and Sammy onstage, it really was like a party.’ Tyrer emphasises that this is a show where the audience is part of the proceedings, explaining that every night can be different depending on feedback from the crowd. In short, it’s a party and we’re all invited. ‘By the end of it, it does genuinely feel like we’re all in it together,’ says Oxenham. ‘It’s us and the audience, and we’re all having a great time.’
The Rat Pack Party is at the First Group Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Oct 1-10, 8pm. Dhs150 for the opening night, all other performances Dhs175. www.timeouttickets.com or 800 4669.
Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart headed up the original Rat Pack in the ’50s. Even though Sinatra, Martin and Davis Jr referred to themselves as the Summit or the Clan, they couldn’t escape inheriting the name. And it’s been re-invented throughout the ages for other clusters of big-name stars.
The Brat Pack
Referring to young (often badly behaved) stars who made it in ’80s coming-of-age films, such as Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Robert Downey Jr.
The Frat Pack
These Hollywood comedians always turn up in each other’s films. See Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughan, Owen Wilson, Steve Carell.
The Brit Pack
Headed by Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson, this is a new crew of young, trendy things from Blighty, including actor Tom Sturridge and musos Bobby Long and Marcus Foster.