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Reviving the Old Magic

In 1960, the Las Vegas skyline looked a lot different than it does today. Hotels had names reflective of the desert city--the Sands, the Dunes, the Sahara. Today, the Venetian stands where the Sands did, and the Bellagio's dancing waters sway where the Dunes used to be. What the city lacked in architectural prowess in those days was made up for in star power.

During its heyday, the Sands, "A Place in the Sun," shined with A-list entertainers: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop--the members of the Rat Pack--all graced the stage of the hotel.

Sinatra and company were filming the original Ocean's Eleven at the hotel. They often filmed in the morning and performed late. One night, Davis was on stage, and Sinatra and Martin interrupted his act. They sang, clowned around and delighted the audience. History, magic--and a subsequent album--were made.

Fast-forward to the year 2000 in Hayes, England, where The Rat Pack--Live From Las Vegas opened at the Beck Theatre, before heading on tour successfully for three years. With more successful London shows at the Strand Theatre and Savoy Theatre, the decision was made to bring the show to America.

The Rat Pack--Live at the Sands, as it is called in the United States, opened in San Antonio, Texas, on Oct. 3, 2006. Frank, Sammy and Dean captivated new audiences with their music, humor and coolness.

Starring as Sammy Davis Jr., David Hayes isn't a stranger to Nevada entertainment circles. Hailing from Reno, Hayes performed in American Superstars at the former Flamingo Hilton in Reno and also at various shows throughout the state, including Lake Tahoe. Hayes says this is the best production he has been in.

"These three guys are three American icons. This is the closest you can get to the original. The audience doesn't want you to impersonate them. You are the guy. I even go, 'Man, this is amazing.'

"The music sets the tone. It's all live. No lip-synching, no pre-recorded music, no lasers. ... Frank Sinatra, Sammy, Dean--they were the lasers. They didn't need that stuff. It's all about the chemistry, music and song."

Hayes says the production is a period piece. "It's 1960, a re-enactment of what they did. If they did it, we do it." And that includes plenty of improvisation.

"It's a surprise every night you do it. We might start in one key and then change key. It's structured, but there is a lot of spontaneity, creativity and improvisation."

Hayes showed off his improvisational skill when asked how he prepared for his role as Sammy Davis Jr. "A lot of smoking and drinking," he quipped.

But in between the swigs and drags, Hayes did real research on Davis by reading and watching footage, tapes and videos. He even saw Davis perform many times.

Starring along with Hayes as Davis are Stephen Triffitt as Sinatra and Nigel Casey as Martin. They are joined by backup singers Anna Carmichael, Lucie Florentine and Andrea Wingelaar as the Burelli Sisters. They are backed by a 15-piece big band, playing signature songs including "My Kind of Town," "Fly Me to the Moon," "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime," "Volare," "That Old Black Magic" and "Mr. Bojangles."

Hayes is the only American in the cast and raves about his co-stars. "These guys have mastered their craft. It elevates you."

Hayes also has a high opinion of the man he plays. "Sammy really loved people. He lived to perform. Sammy is and was the entertainer's entertainer. He was Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. There is a certain level you put a standard by. He was that standard.

"I don't know if people know the total impact he had. He was a singer, tap dancer, impressionist, great actor, great comic. He played six instruments, including the bass, piano, trumpet, alto sax and guitar. He did impressions of Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin and Humphrey Bogart. He was a humanitarian as well. He was the guy."

Broadway in Tucson presents The Rat Pack--Live at the Sands, from Tuesday, Nov. 27, through Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Show times are 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 27, through Thursday, Nov. 29; 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1; 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1; 1 and 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 2. Ticket prices range from $20 to $55, with 50 percent off student tickets and 10 percent off senior and military tickets. Tickets are available by calling 321-1000, visiting ticketmaster.com or at the Tucson Convention Center ticket office.

More by Irene Messina

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