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Unflattering Imitations

Filichia is unconvinced by the impersonators of Frank, Dean & Sammy Live in Concert

By New York City
Russ Loniello, Louis Velez, and Gary Anthony
in Frank, Dean & Sammy Live in Concert
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Russ Loniello, Louis Velez, and Gary Anthony
in Frank, Dean & Sammy Live in Concert
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
If you need glasses to see faraway objects, leave them home when you attend Frank, Dean & Sammy Live in Concert. Better still, buy a seat in the balcony. Best of all, get a table and sit on the chair whose back is facing the stage. Then you'll be more impressed by the three men standing in for Messrs. Sinatra, Martin, and Davis. Gary Anthony (Frank), Russ Loniello (Dean), and Louis Velez (Sammy) aren't any better than those Elvis impersonators who look nothing like Presley but put on some sideburns and call it an act.

"Dean" has a smile that's right; too bad the rest of his face is all wrong. "Sammy" does effectively mimic the way that Davis deeply concentrated on lyrics, especially when he sings "What Kind of Fool Am I?" He also offers the frenetic burst of excitement that Davis showed when he made his little legs run rapidly in place. But the facial resemblance isn't close. As for "Frank," when he sings "My Way," he does it his way -- which isn't as good as Sinatra's way. What you get here is the shock of non-recognition.

Regrets? I have a few more. While this evening should ideally take us back in a time machine, it instead transports us to a strange alternative universe. "Dean" and "Sammy" wear toupees that couldn't have cost more than $1.50 each. Worse, "Frank" is too eager to please, with a smile too broad for Sinatra in his later career and a genuine need to be loved by the crowd. The real Sinatra made people come to him, but this one literally comes to us, going into the audience and shaking hands with spectators. Can you see the real Frank Sinatra doing that? Sure, stories were told of his humanitarian acts, but there were many more accounts that suggested -- to paraphrase a line from The Lion in Winter -- that if you were on fire, Sinatra wouldn't have bothered to urinate on you to put you out.

Gary Anthony more resembles a Catskills comic who is glad to get a gig opening for Shecky Green, or maybe even Frank Sinatra, Jr. -- who, when you think of it, would have been an inspired choice for this show. Are you thinking that Junior wouldn't want to play a shadow of his famous father? Well, he's apparently not above doing an impersonation; he recently played the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, in a show called Sinatra Sings Sinatra.

Even if these three were dead ringers for The Rat Pack visually and vocally, the chemistry betwen real-life friends Frank, Dean and Sammy -- the lives, laughs, and lunacy they shared -- can't possibly be recreated here. No matter how much they nursed it, then rehearsed it, Gary Anthony, Russ Loniello, and Louis Velez can't recreate the legends' history with each other. They try to tell jokes, including one that says the ingredients of "a Golden Age Cocktail" are prune juice mixed with Geritol. Granted, that's the type of joke the real trio told, but they got away with because they were who they were. In the mouths of these not-so-great pretenders, the same joke sounds terrible. All of this costs $60 without dinner -- which, ironically enough, is probably around the same price that one had to pay way back when to see the real Frank, Dean, and Sammy.

The show requires complete suspension of disbelief for another reason: On the night I attended, The Supper Club was virtually empty. Davis, in his autobiography Yes, I Can, wrote that he was depressed if there was one empty table when he performed because it proved that hundreds of people weren't dying to get in. So the lack of patrons at The Supper Club certainly doesn't help us to believe that we're seeing Frank, Dean, and Sammy. What's more, when intermission is announced, "Frank" says, "We'll see you at the bar," followed by musical director Barry Potts' plea, "So please stick around and enjoy." No one ever had to beg those seeing the real Frank, Dean, and Sammy to stay! Their audiences remained until the last note of exit music.

And yet, in the middle of the second act, a woman in the sparse audience yelled, "We love you, Dino!" -- her own version of applauding to keep Tinkerbelle alive. Well, everybody loves somebody sometime; but why did she do this? For the same reason why, when I saw Beatlemania at its first preview in Boston in 1977, the audience went absolutely wild when "John, Paul, George and Ringo" were announced. Maybe they missed the Beatles the first time around and were playing catch-up, or maybe they were remembering those thrilling days. What else could audience members possibly get out of impersonation shows? Do they feel a sort of greatness by association? Does seeing pseudo-performers keep alive their love for the deceased legends? Do they return to happier times and somehow feel young again? If so, blame it on their lost youth.

By the middle of the second-act of Frank, Dean & Sammy, the game of "let's pretend" had really taken flight, and many of the numbers got song-recognition applause the moment they started. Maybe others will wind up cheering for them and positive word-of-mouth will spread. It's up to you, New York, New York.

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@theatermania.com]


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