The Definitive Rat Pack
Witnessing a master of his craft is and should forever be something extraordinary; but observing three at once – now that is something truly special. In an unwavering tour de force, Stephen Triffit, Mark Adams and George Daniel Long – best known as The Definitive Rat Pack – shun the ‘tribute’ tag in favour of a much higher bid: offering a matchless homage to an entire era. And this July, you can see the prized trio for yourselves at Leeds Castle Open Air Classical Concert.
exclusive interview by Gemma Dunn
The epitome of ‘cool’, the infamous Rat Pack ruled Hollywood and Las Vegas during the 1950s and 60s – and rightly so. Instrumental in the rise of Vegas as a popular entertainment destination, their impromptu sell-out shows and award-winning songs attracted hoards of fans – including the rich and famous – who were desperate to be a part of the Rat Pack experience. And thanks to The Definitive Rat Pack, that same experience exists today.
The original cast members of the Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas in the West End, Stephen (Frank Sinatra); Mark Adams (Dean Martin); and George Daniel Long (Sammy Davis Jnr) are recognised internationally as the best at ‘what they do’ thanks to years of experience, dedication and, having met them, bucket loads of charisma.
All three of you have extensive experience in show business; however, would you agree that your Rat Pack personas have been particularly career defining?
M: Well we call ourselves The Definitive Rat Pack and anything that can take over your career for the length of time that it has – for all of three of us – then, yeah. We don’t define it, but I’m sure other people would define us in the roles and shows that we do.
To what extent do you live and breathe your characters?
S: There are aspects of our characters that have taken on elements of the originals, but we don’t behave like them; you can’t these days!
M: We don’t have enough money to be able to do that, unfortunately.
G: We don’t live, breathe and sleep them, but when you’ve been doing it for so long, you can kind of turn it on and off.
The Definitive Rat Pack is far beyond a ‘tribute’ act – you recreate a defining era on stage. How do you ensure you remain at the top of your game?
S: Thankfully, our audiences see us as the best of what we do and we do work to maintain that. It’s not a case of being blasé; we’re continuously working, striving, learning, looking, watching and listening to be better.
G: There are times when you listen to something you’ve done a few months later and go ‘oh, I’m starting to change that’. For me personally, it’s the odd adjustment here and there; I just keep track.
M: You reach a point where you go way beyond what you would deem a tribute act (for want of a better word), and you take it as close as you can to an art form.
S: We’re more homage artists.
G: Interpreters, rather than impersonators.
The Rat Pack certainly knew how to make performing look effortless. How easy is it to recreate that same on-stage chemistry?
S: It’s difficult considering we actually hate each other. No, I’m joking; we’ve known each other for over 15 years now and like all relationships, you have your ups and downs.
M: As they did! They wouldn’t talk to each other for ages, and then all of a sudden Frank would pick up the phone and say ‘I’ve got a show, be there’, and they’d all turn up and have a great laugh. When any kind of opportunity came along, they could take it and justifiably honour it.
S: The most difficult thing is to make it look easy. When we walk on stage, it’s like a switch that goes on – the American accents come out and we’re off!
G: Having fun is the biggest thing.
Aside from the track list, are your performances scripted or impromptu?
G: There’s a certain amount of stock lines, but you’ll never see the same show twice! We’ve done a version before that was more scripted, but now we have the ability to do what we want to do.
S: It’s almost like scenes that we trip into; Mark might say something, I’ll see where he’s going with it and carry it on – and then it changes direction again. It depends on the audience too; it’s a very interactive show so it’s a part of the whole thing.
Dean played a subtle drunk on stage – ‘played’ being the operative word. Mark, how difficult is it to act as though you’re drunk but pretend you’re sober, as he did?
S: He actually gets drunk!
M: That probably has helped a few times! Dean wasn’t a broad drunk, although I’m sure there were times when he enjoyed a drink with his pals. But it’s the subtleties he played, which show how clever and brilliant he was with it. His daughter told me it was apple juice in the glass – he would have one scotch and soda at the end of the show and then he’d be gone. He didn’t hang around and party afterwards like all the others did; he was off playing golf in the morning without a hangover!
You mentioned Dean’s daughter. Do you have much to do with the families?
M: I’ve met his daughter, Dina, a couple of times and I’ve met his son. His son has actually been in the UK a couple of times on tour, so I was interested to see what he said about his dad and if there was footage of him I hadn’t yet seen.
S: I’ve met Frank’s daughter, Tina, the youngest of his three children.
You all started at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the original Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas cast. Why did you decide to break off and start your own, personal show?
M: I think we hold the record for performing in the most West End theatres – nine in total. We’re 10 years older and wanted to develop the act, as the originals did. You’ve got to move forward, and we’ve gone from black and white to colour.
There’s some brilliant stories surrounding the Rat Pack. Do you have a favourite?
M: There’s a good one and I’m sure there’s an element of truth in it. The guys played Vegas and after finishing the show Frank, who is holding court at a table of girls, asks ‘where’s my pal (Dean)?’ After finding he’d gone up to bed for an early night, Frank gave one of the girls $1000 to ‘go and show Dean a good time’. She went upstairs, knocked on the door and explained why she was there. With that, Dean gave her $1000 and said ‘now go downstairs and tell Frank I was great’. And that sums up Dean Martin – the myth and the man are very different, whereas Sinatra would have done it and asked for two girls!
S: Frank once gave the concierge at Vegas’ Sands Hotel $200 to get his car, and before driving off he asked the guy ‘what’s the biggest tip you’ve ever had?’ He replied ‘previous to this, $100’, and when Frank asked who gave it to him, he said ‘you did last week, Sir’! Frank was very generous but you wouldn’t want to cross him.
If you were granted the power of time travel, which iconic Rat Pack concert would you attend?
S: I would love to have sat in the front row of The Main Event, Frank’s big, live concert in Cadogan Hall. Anybody who was anybody was in that audience.
M: Vegas 1960 when they were filming Ocean’s 11 – that was the time to be there.
You’re performing at the Leeds Castle Open Air Classical Concert on 11th July. Is this your first time in the Garden of England?
M: We’ve played Chatham a few times, and my father in law is from Herne Bay!
G: I’ve been to Whitstable a few times and Canterbury a couple of times.
M: I actually filmed in The Maze here at Leeds Castle a couple of years ago. We’re really looking forward to performing here; it’s lovely.
The last private owner of Leeds Castle was Lady Baillie who, in the 1920s, would travel from London to host huge weekend parties with many high-profile guests. How do you feel about playing a venue with such a colourful past?
M: Leeds Castle is gorgeous!
S: You’ve got to be careful what you sit on and touch.
G: It’s almost a shame the concert is outside, as although the Castle makes a wonderful backdrop, there’s so much to see inside. We feel privileged to get to see some of the rooms today!
S: You wouldn’t be able to fit 10,000 people in here.
G: Well you could, one at a time.
M: It’s been on our bucket list; we’ve done Blenheim Palace, Kew Gardens, Kilworth House, Audley End House etc, so we’re very much looking forward to ticking Leeds Castle off too.
So when you’re not ‘Rat Packing’, how do you spend your time?
M: Stephen, you sail your boat up and down the Thames!
S: I do. I enjoy a bit of gardening and drifting up and down the river, as well as working on the solo Frank side.
G: I’m a horticulturalist and run my own garden design company.
Don’t miss The Definitive Rat Pack at the Leeds Castle Open Air Classical Concert on Saturday 11th July.
For tour dates and more information, visit www.thedefinitiveratpack.com.
To buy tickets, visit www.heritage-events.co.uk.