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Sunday, 18 February 2018

Preview: Rat Pack Live at Sunderland Empire


THE RAT PACK LIVE FROM LAS VEGAS SET TO SWING INTO SUNDERLAND EMPIRE

The Pack is back and this time, they are bringing Ella Fitzgerald from Thursday 15 – Saturday 17 March for 4 performances only!

The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas sends you back in time to the glamorous, golden era of 1950s Las Vegas, when Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior and Dean Martin joined forces and become the hottest ticket in town at the famous Sands Hotel.

Join us in reimagining a night at the Sands with Frank, Sammy and Dean plus very special guest Ella Fitzgerald, the sensational Burelli Sisters and a stunning big band.

Hit follows hit including pack favourites The Lady is a Tramp, Mr Bojangles, That’s Amore, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, What Kind of Fool Am I, Volare, My Way, Everybody Loves Somebody, Night and Day, S'Wonderful, Mack The Knife and many more. 

If you wish you’d swung with the hardest partying pack in town, now’s your chance!


We asked Garrett Phillips (Frank), Nigel Casey (Dean Martin) and David Hayes (Sammy Davis Jr) about bringing the show across the pond.

What can audiences expect from the show?

David: It's a fantastic show, recreating history at every performance and bringing heaven to every theatre we play.

Nigel: I couldn't agree more. In terms of the content, it's a lot of what the Rat Pack used to do back in the 60s and it's such a nostalgic show. We have a fantastic 12-piece live band on stage and beautiful back-up girls who don't just sing and look wonderful, they also dance brilliantly. And we try our darndest to get as close as we can to Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin. You see it in the people's faces in the audience that they're really reliving that time and we get a lot of fans from that era who love the music coming to see the show as well as younger people who have since discovered it. Everyone has a really good time.

How do you account for its popularity on both sides of the Atlantic?

David: It's the best Rat Pack show, not just in the UK and America but anywhere in the world. What you're getting here is a top-quality show from production to choreography, musical arrangements, the big band on stage, the girls playing The Burelli Sisters and now we have Ella Fitzgerald in it too. There's nothing else like this in the world.

Nigel: I've been part of many other Rat Pack and swing shows and I have to say it's an absolute joy to do this one. It really is the best.

Garrett, as a newbie to the show are you surprised by how enthusiastic audiences are?

Garrett: Absolutely. It's like a trip down memory lane and these guys [David and Nigel] are stalwarts who have given me help and confidence. I'm a total debutante and it's a joy to start with this cast and this production. You can feel the love from the crowd for the Cole Porter songs, the Jimmy Van Heusen music and all the other greats. You feel it immediately and it's also wonderful to have a good chemistry with the guys on the stage.

What's the most important thing for you to nail about Frank, Dean and Sammy?

Garrett: For me it's about trying to embody Sinatra's personality rather than just doing an impersonation. I try to embody him as a character and an actor in terms of his confidence and his command of the stage. Vocally, of course I try to emulate his phrasing etc and the fact I can do that with my own voice, to arrive at that same geography, is a happy coincidence. The stars have aligned for me with this role.

Nigel: The energy is terribly important, whether it's Frank, Dean or Sammy. With Dean in particular I guess to go-to thing is playing drunk, although there's a line in the show which Dean used himself which goes “If I was half as drunk as you think I am I'd have been dead ten years ago”. Apparently he wasn't drunk but he played it awfully well. It was an endearing, charming part of his act. Another terribly important thing to capture is the friendship. They were massive superstars back in the day – film stars, pop stars – but they were friends and that's the reason their Vegas shows worked so well. The friendship and the fun they had is something the crowd feels when they see the show and we feel them going along with us. It's a joy to do every night.

David: With Sammy it's about capturing the spirit and the essence of him as a performer because that's really what he was – he was a variety performer. It's about his oneness with the crowd and being able to come out and please them. And as Nigel says, it's all about the chemistry between the three guys. We have done more Rat Pack shows than the originals because they had their own careers going, but when they were all together something magical happened. It's the same with us. When we're all on stage together it's really special, whether it's during Birth Of The Blues or Style or when it's Garrett and Nigel as Frank and Dean doing The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else, which I think is really magical.

From researching the show, what have you most been surprised or intrigued to learn about them?

Garrett: One thing I didn't know about Frank is that he had a scar on the left side of his face, near his ear, from when he was born. It was a forceps birth and his eardrum was perforated, but magically he could still sing.

Nigel: We watched a heck of a lot of footage and read the books. With Dean I think one of his daughters said “He was a wonderful man but a terrible father”, but I think they all were because they were so wrapped up in show business. It's a joy to play someone who was so much fun. He was a terribly charismatic man, charming and endearing. When I listen to Dean Martin's records I can almost hear him smiling as he's singing.

David: Our director Mitch Sebastian told me that Frank and Sammy's friendship came even before Frank and Dean's, which I didn't know. They mixed together because of the struggles they had and, from reading the books about all of them, I saw that Frank wanted to create a world, Sammy wanted to fit into that world and [laughs] Dean could not care less about that world.

What's your favourite song to sing in the show and why?

Garrett: Fallin In Love Again is lovely and What Kind Of Fool Am I. They're beautiful songs. I'd be tempted to pick My Way, of course, because it's the one at the end of the show but I do like Angel Eyes. Different songs reach different people. My brother was at one of the shows and he said there was a big geezer beside him crying during one of the numbers.

Nigel: Oh wow, that's such a difficult one. There are so many great songs. I like all the other guys' songs, actually. But a Dean Martin song? I love the duet Dean does with Frank, The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else, but they're all classics.

David: I love The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else too as well as Angel Eyes, but I honestly can't pick a Sammy favourite.

What does bringing Ella Fitzgerald into the show add to it?

David: It's like a wonderful surprise, just like you don't expect to see The Burelli Sisters when they first appear in the first act. The show is so well thought-out. It's not just 'Let's get these three guys to do all these songs', it's layered, and it gives each performer time to establish who they are. You see Frank first, then Sammy, then Dean and before you see Dean you see these lovely ladies. Then now you get Ella in act two and it's another surprise and a lovely addition.

Garrett: Because of Ella's presence act two is like a whole new show.

David: It's like it goes into overdrive.

Garrett: And the vocal colour Nicola Emmanuelle brings to it is just amazing. Her phrasing is so on-point. She nails it, she looks like her, she's bubbly and she's fun.

David: She's effortless and when she first sings it's like 'Woah!'

The Rat Pack were famous party animals. What are your own post-show rituals?

David: [Laughs] We have some milk and cookies.

Nigel: This might be terribly disappointing to admit, but this must be the only three Rat Pack guys where none of us drink or smoke.

Garrett: We are, in real life, a no-alcohol Rat Pack.


Do you think they'd get away with the near-the-knuckle banter if they were performing today?

Garrett: I don't think so, but it's indicative of how it was at the time.

Nigel: And the guys were holding a mirror up to attitudes of that time and unfortunately not that much has changed and I think it's good to hold up a mirror sometimes.

What are you most looking forward to about taking the show on the road?

Garrett: It'll be great to meet different audiences. Sometimes in the West End by the time we get out of the theatre the shutters are down and everyone has disappeared into the London night. When we did a nine-day mini-tour before the West End people would come to the stage door and give you such great feedback on a personal level rather than just posting bits on social media.

David: Just bringing happiness to people around the country. That's what it's all about.

Nigel: There are so many wonderful cities and towns we'll be going to and we get a licence to have fun on stage. To go on the road with this party is going to be a joy.

What's the one thing you have to have in your dressing room when you're on tour?

Nigel: [Laughs] At least two of The Burelli Sisters.

Garrett: I don't have any riders at all, except a big amount of baby wipes to get rid of the make-up.

David: Just to have a dressing room is good!

And What about Nicola Emmanuel who appears as Ella Fitzgerald. We caught up with her too ahead of her Sunderland performance.

How is it taking on the mantel of such a revered performer as Ella?

I've always sung these songs so it's not daunting for me. I've got my own band and have been singing since I was a kid so it just feels natural, plus people have always said I sound like Ella.

What do you feel made her one of the all-time greats?

It's the way they sang in those days, not just Ella but a lot of other great singers. It's something I picked up on when I was really small, with parents who are also musicians. I prefer the way people in a bygone age sang – just the way they, say, tailored the end of a note. People like Ella and Patti Page and June Christy and Judy Garland. The way they sang sounded better to me so I was singing like that from a young. It's funny, when I was at school people would go “Why are you singing all those songs and singing them in that way?' I just always did and now it's like breathing to me. As for Ella, it's the way she brought the songs across. A lot of people sang the same songs but her rendition of them is the quintessential one. Her Gershwin and Cole Porter songbook albums were so brilliant that Irving Berling's own children asked him “When are you going to get Ella to sing your songbook, Dad?” which she did in the end. Her voice didn't have a race, it just had a sound that whoever you were – from super-rich to really, really poor – resonated. You'd hear her sing and go “This is the perfect version”. She had a voice and an innocence.

From researching the show, what have you most been surprised or intrigued to learn about her?

I knew she had a hard life, but one of the things I didn't know – and which really amazed me – was that when she won a competition at the Apollo in Harlem they said she was hideously ugly and they didn't want her in the band. I've always wondered if there was also a rivalry between her and Billie Holiday. There must have been, although Billie Holiday's take on songs was always painful and quite depressing, if you ask me, while Ella seemed to rise above all that.

What do you most have in common with her? And what are the big differences?

I'm always amazed by how people say I'm just like her. The greatest compliments of all are when people who actually worked with Ella say that. I've had a happier life, of course, but I'd love to have the success she had in that style of music because jazz is something I've always done.

Do you think you'd have enjoyed being a performer in the Rat Pack era?

Yes, I do. I love vintage fashion and I'd love to have been around at that time because they seemed to have so much damn fun. Frank and Ella never actually performed together in Vegas but they did TV shows together and were on the same label. It's interesting how Sinatra was friends with Ella and Sammy Davis Jr and because he was so revered he could go “These are my friends, take it or leave it”. To us it's just normal but back then it was really progressive.

Do you have a favourite number in the show and why?

We chose Night And Day because it's such a big number and I love how it starts with the drums coming in, but I love them all – not just Ella's numbers but Frank's, Dean's and Sammy's too.

Is the scat singing a challenge for you?

It's actually really easy for me. I suppose it's a bit like when you're singing soul music and you ad lib or if you're rapping – I don't have a fear of it and as long as you know where you are in the song it doesn't matter where you go with it. 

Does it surprise you how enthusiastic audiences for the show are?

No because it was such a great era, such a wonderful era, and there's a lot of nostalgia out there for it. But by the same token we see younger people in the audience and they love it just as much. It was such a great show that the Rat Pack used to put on and so much fun – with all the camaraderie, the jokes and the falling around.

What are you most looking forward to about taking the show on the road?

It's gonna be wicked, with some big auditoriums and big audiences. When we do the show, especially on a Saturday when everyone's out for a good time, we get such a lively reaction. Sometimes they're heckling, which is fun to play off and something that would have happened when the guys did Vegas.

What's the one thing you have to have in your dressing room and what are your post-show rituals?

I don't have any diva demands, sorry! After a show I go home or, if we're on tour, I go back to the hotel and watch shows about serial killers. I'm obsessed with anything to do with real crime. I don't know why but I'm fascinated by it. If I wasn't a singer I think I'd want to be a criminologist.

Tickets:
Tickets on sale now and available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on
0844 871 3022* or online from our affiliates ATG Tickets at
www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland*
*Calls cost 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings


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