Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Heaven Help Us
Also, see Kevin's review of The Life
Before Celine Dion and Cirque du Soleil became fixtures in Las Vegas, there was a league of extraordinary gentlemen who basically defined the phrase "triple threat." Not only did they sing, act, and dance, they exuded style, finesse and, most of all, class. They were called The Rat Pack.
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. were a trio to be reckoned with. Each of them held their own as entertainers, but as a quintet (including actor Peter Lawford and comedian Joey Bishop), the men made Las Vegas their playground as they entertained audiences together, taking their place in the upper echelon of musical greatness. The triumvirate of cool is being celebrated in a new musical, Heaven Help Us, now getting its world premiere at Florida Stage.
The time is New Year's Eve, 1998. Frank, Dean, and Sammy are now in that "great Caesar's Palace in the sky." But it seems that someone is in peril down on Earth. So God (voiced by Gordon McConnell) has given the Boys an assignment: do one more concert and set everything right or be placed in the Sin City that is way hotter than Las Vegas could ever be.
Back on Earth, Vic (Adam Pelty), owner of the Rat Pack Lounge, is lamenting to his bartender Bobby (Eddie Korbich) that the revenue is not coming in anymore. Vic also has a long running grudge against a man who gave him promises and dreams but never fulfilled them. His name: Francis Albert Sinatra. Seems that when Vic was a young boy, his dad owned the joint and asked Mr. Sinatra to listen to his son sing. Sinatra was using the lounge as a rest stop during his tour, and just indulged the young buck, saying he would be back to help him out. Sinatra never came back, but he left a plaque of encouragement that became the centerpiece of the diner.
Now an older man, Vic is in deep trouble because his diner is being taken over by a land developer named Mr. Saunders (Marcus Neville), who is currently drunk and passed out at the bar. His assistant Katherine (Jodi Stevens) is nervously trying to sober her boss up, and communication with their Spanish valet Jeorge (Julian Rebolledo) is humorous at best. Seems that Jeorge is a big fan of the Rat Pack and an aspiring singer.
When Vic can't take the pressure anymore, he attacks the jukebox. Suddenly, a lightning charge surges through his body, and Bobby also feels a jolt. Now Bobby is singing, dancing, and cracking jokes like Sammy Davis Jr. The next person to be hit, Mr. Saunders, starts talking like Dean Martin. When Katherine and Jeorge come back in, Mr. Saunders is on the floor again. Bobby amusingly covers for both Vic and Saunders while Katherine leaves confused. Suddenly, Dean Martin jumps into Jeorge's body while Frank Sinatra takes over for Mr. Saunders (perfect choice). The Rat Pack has returned to Earth.
When Vic comes to, he doesn't understand what's going on at first, but soon comes to the realization that his heroes have come back to save him from his undoing. A bumpy road is ahead, for they have until the stroke of midnight to make Vic see that life is worth living, or all their lives will take a turn downward.
James Hindman and Ray Roderick have created a story containing 29 of the Pack's most memorable songs, with only a quintet of actors and a small band needed to simply intertwine the libretto and selections harmoniously. Even though this seems like a revue more than an actual book musical, aficionados will love to stroll down memory lane with tunes like "High Hopes," "I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die," and "Young at Heart."
Julian Rebolledo excels at capturing Dino's swagger and smooth voice. His comedic timing is flawless when creating Martin's memorable trademark slip on the floor. Rebolledo makes him into a lovable fop; fans will remember the Italian Crooner as he performed in his prime. Marcus Neville is perfect as the Chairman of the Board. Neville makes Ol' Blue Eyes into a leader who may be pushy at first, but also has a heart that is filled with regret for what he's done to this kid. Neville has Frankie's moves, but also gives him compassion in those lighter moments. Eddie Korbich may come off as more Don Rickles than the Candy Man, but he is funny just the same. When Korbich does get a handle on Mr. Davis, he becomes a comical muse, capturing Sammy's genius. Korbich's tap moves are excellent, plus he has Sammy's mannerisms down pat.
Neville, Rebolledo, and Korbich also show great chemistry bantering back and forth just like the troika used to do back in the day. Their harmony is excellent, and it shows off their singing skills. Jodi Stevens' portrayal as Katherine is at first stilted, as her character should be, but when she changes into an angel assisting the Boys, Stevens is all legs. Her body fills in very nicely as she struts around cooing, trying to give Vic support and showing him that being alive and falling in love are not so bad.
Adam Pelty, who plays Vic, is a good leading man, but Roderick and Hindman make Vic stand in the background as the Rat Pack take over the story. Only Pelty can make Vic hold his own against these three forces. His resemblance to Barry Manilow not withstanding, Pelty makes us feel Vic's joy and pain, making him stand out instead of being just one character in an ensemble piece.
Filled with Rat Pack memorabilia, Dana Lauren Kenn has designed the ideal diner, surrounded by pictures and mugs of Sinatra, Davis and Martin. The other thing that is cool about this design is that the diner also splits apart, revealing the orchestra and creating the concert lounge where the Pack will play once more. Suzette Pare's costumes are appealing when the Pack is in full tuxedo regalia, while Richard Crowell's lighting complements both the diner and lounge rather sufficiently.
Heaven Help Us is a great musical for those fans who still are in love with the Rat Pack. It also schools younger audiences in a time when music was never explicit, but had style and substance. Even though the story lacks a certain depth to be a book musical, the results are the same: charmed audiences will leave humming the familiar songs and they will tell their friends about it.
Heaven Help Us continues its engagement through September 5th at Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. For more information, please call the box office at (561) 585-3433 or visit their website at www.Floridastage.org.
FLORIDA STAGE - Heaven Help Us
Cast: Eddie Korbich*, Marcus Neville*, Adam Pelty*
Voiceovers: Nancy Barnett* and Gordon McConnell*
Production Stage Manager: Suzanne Clement Jones*
Scenic Design: Dana Lauren Kenn
Directed and Choreographed by Ray Roderick
*-denotes Actor's Equity Association
-- Kevin Johnson