What happens in Vegas … travels to Ogunquit, many years later.

The golden age, or at least the gold-plated age, of Las Vegas entertainment is being re-created for the first offering of the summer theater season at the Ogunquit Playhouse. It’s the “Mad Men” era of drinks and smokes and politically incorrect jokes, served up with some memorable songs by a group of performers brought together by fate and friendship as the “Rat Pack.”

It’s hard to know exactly how close Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop really were. But they certainly made fun-loving Vegas audiences in the early 1960s believe they were having an absolute ball together onstage.

As reviewed on Friday night, “The Rat Pack is Back!”, directed by Robbie Howard, is probably best understood as a kind of quick and easy entertainment. But it’s fun to see and makes for a good opening act to the more substantial fare coming later in the Playhouse’s 81st season.

Some of the comedy has been updated and some of the songs post-date the era, but the show basically tries to give you a feel for what being in the Copa Room of the Sands Hotel way back when would have been like. A well-stocked bar, a 12-piece band and a glossy atmosphere set the stage for the players to work out their impersonations of show-biz legends and evoke old times.

Heading the original Rat Pack was, of course, the great Frank Sinatra. Brian DuPrey captures a good deal of the casual swagger of the guy who went from teen idol to “chairman of the board” of popular entertainment. When onstage, there’s no doubt that it’s his Sinatra who’s in charge. DuPrey also came close enough to the voice of the original to carry off classics such as “Fly Me to the Moon” and “That’s Life” in credible fashion.

Drew Anthony’s Dean Martin, much like the original, did his best to steal the show. His takes on “That’s Amore” and “Volare” elicited the loudest audience sing-alongs of the evening and his comic comments and touches of skipping choreography gave an important sense of energy to the proceedings.

Kyle Diamond’s Sammy Davis Jr. added some dance of his own to “Mr. Bojangles” but probably had his best moments on “Candy Man” and in duet numbers with Anthony and DuPrey.

The comedian Joey Bishop was portrayed by Mickey Joseph, who more closely resembles Bob Newhart but added some stand-up and in-costume moments that had the audience cracking up.

The onstage band, led by Lon Bronson, was first-rate and a treat to hear as it added punched-up arrangements to a show that comes on strong in trying to take you back. 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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