Tribute acts are big business these days. The annual Elvis convention in Las Vegas – where else? – draws thousands of worshippers willing to strut their stuff on stage and pay homage to the “King” while risking a premature hip replacement.
Most are garishly groomed in white suits studded with more baubles than the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. They prance like preening peacocks while admiring each other’s sideburns and, once behind a microphone, implore adoring audiences to “Love Me Tender” with varying degrees of success.
It is a sight to behold and, amid the cacophony, offers solid evidence that imitation really can be the sincerest form of flattery.
As we headed to the Radisson Blu for The Rat Pack tribute show, the pedestrian pace of traffic meant we had ample time to consider other artists and groups that have spawned a mini-industry of musical mimicry.
One Brother Rue rightly pointed out that the “Glenn Miller Sound” has endured long after the great bandleader’s watery demise over the English Channel in 1944. It was a shrewd observation and perhaps unworthy of an unkind comment enquiring if he had actually seen him perform.
Following an uncomfortable silence, a repentant Rue Jr decided a sad self-deprecating tale would probably cheer him up. The year was 1988, during a period of unrestrained decadence and dalliances when he was more likely to be on a racecourse than at a typewriter. “Ah, yes, chasing fast women and slow horses if I recall,” his brother remarked with delighted disdain.
At the centre of the story was a new musical planned for London’s West End. Its producers were seeking “seed” investors with the promise of extravagant returns more favourable than the 33-1 outsider in the 3.30 at Newmarket.
Having met an alluring lady tasked with the challenge of parting him and his pennies he graciously declined. The following year The Buddy Holly Story opened to rave reviews and became an instant sensation. It has since marvelled more than 22 million theatre-goers worldwide and even enjoyed a successful stint on Broadway.
Needless to say, sympathy was not forthcoming as we pulled in to find a parking space. “Oh Boy. It’s Raining in My Heart,” came the response with cruel reference to two of Holly’s most memorable hits.
On arrival we were greeted by Radisson Blu Director of Entertainment Ray McRobbie, who knows a thing or two about putting on a show. He told us that this particular Rat Pack is the UK’s official number one tribute trio expertly masquerading as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
The story of The Rat Pack at the Sands Hotel & Casino is one of legend and intrigue. The property opened in 1952 when the Nevada desert represented the final frontier of the Wild West as gaudy neon-lit apparitions emerged to satiate Americans’ gluttonous taste for gambling.
The Sands attracted crime boss investors like Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello so across the infamous “Strip” competition for the dollar and dime was fierce indeed. In 1953 Sinatra made his performing debut there and became a shareholder, luring the likes of Davis Jr and eventually Martin to join him on stage at the lavish Copa Room.
For good reason, Las Vegas became known as the city of “Lost Wages” where rooms were booked but beds were seldom ruffled. It soon usurped New York as the city that never slept.
Doha’s Rat Pack for the evening comprised David Alacey (Sinatra), a classically trained actor and cabaret performer who has made several UK television series appearances; Des Colman (Davis Jr), well known in British stage and television circles thanks to roles in EastEnders, Casualty, The Bill and musicals including Miss Saigon and Chicago; and Paul Drakeley (Martin), a music graduate who became one of the youngest Big Band leaders in the country.
As the routine was kicked off by Martin with the show tune classic The Lady Is A Tramp, one Brother Rue, who shall remain nameless, lamented the absence of showgirls but appeared easily assuaged when told it was their night off.
All three original Rat Packers starred in the 1960 film Ocean’s 11, much of which was shot at Sands, so the theme sung by Martin was arguably an uninspiring choice, but Everbody Loves Somebody, primarily a Martin hit, restored momentum.
Davis Jr took over and we were treated by A lot of Livin’ To Do and What Kind Of Fool Am I? Sandwiched elegantly between was his only No 1 solo release, The Candy Man, which was a surprise smash at the time and has done little to combat child obesity ever since.
Sinatra, of course, completed the pleasing introductory repertoire with Come Fly With Me (written for him in 1957), the evergreen Strangers In The Night and Fly Me to the Moon.
All three remained on stage with Martin peppering proceedings with a few jaunty jokes. The Gershwin classic Somebody Loves Me gave way to I Gotta Be Me, Davis Jr’s salute to Broadway. That’s Life, which one Brother Rue interestingly described as the music industry’s vinyl version of an anti-depressant pill, preceded The Birth of the Blues, a song first recorded in 1927 that grew in stature to represent Deep South struggles.
Judging by the resounding applause and a well-hoofed dance floor, the audience was noticeably more appreciative of the second half. The rejuvenated Rat Pack and the accompanying Doha Jazz musicians all deserved the raucous encore entreaties they received at the end.
First up, though, was Luck Be A Lady followed by a tremendous rendition of Roger Miller’s King Of The Road and the 1920s favourite Me And My Shadow. Then cue a few welcome detours.
Isn’t She Lovely, from Stevie Wonder’s superb Songs In The Key Of Life album, dovetailed joyously with Something Stupid, the Robbie Williams/Nicole Kidman version that has been maimed beyond recognition in so many karaoke bars around the world. Here, with help from Cristina from the audience, it survived with carefree alacrity.
Jim Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown picked up the pace again, as did Mack The Knife, before the melodious Dean Martin anthem That’s Amore, once again made grown women weak at the knees. We both agreed that Mr Bojangles, performed with panache by Davis Jr, and My Way, Sinatra’s symphonic signature, provided a fitting finale.
The Giwana Ballroom is an ideal venue for such intimate entertainment, offering Vegas-like value with a grand international buffet and drinks included but without a slot machine in sight. It was a busy weekend for Ray and his crew because over at Qube “Bamboo”, billed as the Philippines King of Rock, was set to entertain over 1,300 fans the day after.
We don’t know if Bamboo’s success will one day yield a tribute band or two but future evenings planned for Radisson Blu will feature “The Magic of Motown” and “Forever Eagles”.
“As long as it is not Buddy Holly,” one Brother Rue whispered for all to hear.
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