‘Rat Pack’ invades The Schoolhouse
When the Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater raised the curtain on the fifth production of its 2009-2010 season, a musical revue entitled “Fly Me To The Moon: A Tribute To The Rat Pack,” it was sure to create a buzz across the islands from any and all lovers of the swinging sounds from the Big Band era.
Surely there would be plenty of admirers, too, of the music made famous by three of the best known performers of the mid-20th century – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. – that would likely fill the Schoolhouse’s intimate setting throughout the entire four-week-plus run.
And once word gets out about just how spectacular “Fly Me To The Moon” is, that prediction is definite to become a reality.
“This show is IN NO WAY endorsed by organized crime,” the announcement over the loudspeakers proclaimed on Thursday evening, in front of a nearly sold out opening night crowd, which chuckled at the obvious joke. Moments later, the oddly named Scungilli Sisters (Elizabeth Casalini and Elizabeth Urbanczyk) launched into “It Don’t Mean A Thing.”
The show – choreographed by Casalini herself – next introduced us to Sinatra (Victor Legaretta, Artistic Director at The Schoolhouse Theater), whose cooler-than-cool persona shone through during “Luck Be A Lady.” Legaretta doesn’t do an impression of the legendary crooner; rather, he captures the essence of “Old Blue Eyes” with a smooth delivery, mimicking movements and subtle comedic side.
“I know what you’re thinking… and yes, Frank was shorter,” quipped Legaretta, who later charmed the crowd with the corny one-liner, “I’ve got an ice sculpture of Raquel Welch backstage… and my lips are being treated for frostbite!”
The following two numbers – “Hey There” and “That’s Amore” – introduced the Sanibel audience to Davis, Jr. (Solomon Kee) and Martin (Dom Crincoli). While Crincoli spent much of 2009 impersonating the warbling and wonderful Martin during a five-month dinner theater run of “A Night at The Sands Hotel with The Rat Pack,” Kee is a recent graduate of The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. His portrayal of the hip and energetic Davis, Jr. was both refreshing and accurate.
“Fly Me To The Moon” successfully brings the theater’s close-sitting group back to the Las Vegas heyday of the entertainment giants, with a simple and uncluttered stage, which included two small circular risers in front of a large Sands marquee bearing the names of the headlining showstoppers. Along the way, each performer showcases their individual talents through song and spirit.
During an up-tempo number like “That Old Black Magic,” a playful pairing (with Legaretta) on “Me And My Shadow” or a somber, impassioned rendition of “Mr. Bojangles,” Kee delivered an impressive tribute to Sammy that even the legend would have appreciated. Whether gracefully tapping through a single spotlight solo dance during the latter tune or jesting with his musical counterparts, Kee leaves an indelible mark on the Schoolhouse’s stage.
So, too, does Crincoli. On some of Martin’s most recognizable songs – “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime,” “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head” (both paired with Casalini and Urbanczyk) and “Volare” (during which the entire audience joined in), Crincoli brings Martin back to life in capturing the crooner’s velvety smooth delivery and alcohol-induced persona.
Clutching a “mock-tail” and with a faux cigarette in hand, Crincoli made the audience roar with his one-liner, “I only drink to steady my nerves. Last night, I got so steady that I couldn’t move!” Later, after gesturing towards the curvaceous Scungilli Sisters, he remarked playfully, “I had those girls knocking on my door for 45 minutes last night… but I wasn’t gonna let them out!”
Urbanczyk, who starred at The Schoolhouse earlier this season during “Lovely Night,” belted out tunes like “I’ve Got The World On A String” (as Liza Minelli, paired with Sinatra on the duet) and “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody,” “The Trolley Song” and “The Man That Got Away” (as Judy Garland) almost effortlessly. Her pitch-perfect performance as a songstress is as impressive to witness as anyone else who has ever come to the island.
Equally refined vocally is Casalini, who shared her bubbly best on “Come On-A My House,” “Half As Much” and “Mambo Italiano” (as Rosemary Clooney). During one tune, Casalini coerced a more-than-willing gentleman from his front row seat and shared a brief dance, which drew a warm ovation. Such interaction is almost a standard element at The Schoolhouse, and fits perfectly here as well.
I would be remiss not to mention Urbanczyk and Casalini’s pairing on “Sisters,” which in both harmony and choreography was equal to the timeless performance of Clooney and Vera-Ellen in Irving Berlin’s classic “White Christmas.”
And, like Sinatra himself, the “Rat Pack” cast is bound together by the aura and charisma of Legaretta. Perhaps the second most impersonated singer behind only Elvis Presley, Sinatra – wit and wicked humor intact – still reigns as “Chairman Of The Board” through Legaretta’s finger-snapping portrayal extraordinaire.
Legaretta does well in capturing the essence of Frank on “The Lady Is A Tramp,” at times holding the next word until the final moment, which drew plenty of laughs. On “Come Fly With Me” (the final number of Act I), “Fly Me To The Moon” and the encore of “That’s Life,” Sinatra is front and center again, with the remaining Rat Packers drawing energy from his effervescent glow and larger-than-life personality.
True to it’s title, “Fly Me To The Moon” offers a cavalcade of superb singing that everyone should catch a ride on.