Dean Martin wasn’t a man without some flaws, but Nigel Casey has spent a lot of time with him over the past seven years and insists the singer/actor was an extremely likable guy.
“He was obviously a terribly nice bloke,” said Casey, a London native who will perform as Martin in “Christmas with the Rat Pack: Live at The Sands” Friday through Sunday at Proctors in Schenectady. “When you read as much about him as you can and you learn this part, you really see that he was a nice man, and you can’t help but like him.”
Joining Casey on stage will be Tam Ward as Frank Sinatra and Jason Pennycooke as Sammy Davis Jr., two more British performers who have performed in this production in the West End and around the world. The trio will be accompanied by a 12-piece big band and the Burelli Sisters.
“This is not a concert we’re doing,” said Casey. “It’s built as a musical theater show, and it generally ends up being a little bit musical-like and very much cabaret-like. We do what those guys used to do at the Sands back in the ’60s. We turn and play to the audience, like I’ve done a lot in cabarets, and if we know the book well enough, we can get off it and then bounce back. Sometimes we even encourage the audience to provide some interaction just like those guys did.”
Martin started out his show business career in 1949 as half of a comedy team with Jerry Lewis. He then headed to Hollywood to make movies, including “Rio Bravo” in 1959 with John Wayne, and by 1965 hosted “The Dean Martin Show,” one of NBC’s top-rated programs for eight years. The show’s theme song and Martin’s biggest solo hit was “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime.”
’Christmas with the Rat Pack: Live at the Sands’
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $65-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204 or www.proctors.org
Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Martin also performed at various venues in Las Vegas, often with Sinatra and Davis making either planned or impromptu appearances during the performance. The improvisational format worked so well — Martin would also show up when Sinatra and Davis were performing — that the term “Rat Pack” was coined by writers to describe the group, which at times also included Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
“We’re not trying to stand in as doubles for those three guys,” said Casey. “What we’re doing is trying to give the essence of their show, the camaraderie and the friendships that existed between those guys. We try to have a great time on the stage, like those guys did, and if we can demonstrate the friendship and charisma those guys had, then it really carries through to the audience and they end up loving the show.”
Casey grew up listening to The Beatles and other ’60s rock groups before coming across Martin and other crooners like him.
“I was a teenager in London, so obviously I listened to all the pop music in Britain,” he said. “But thank goodness I found this music. There’s been a new life for this kind of music, and it’s a joy to be singing it and performing it with these other guys. Fortunately my dad used to love the swing stuff, so I had heard it before growing up, but it wasn’t until later that I really got back into it.”
Casey said there’s a good-size pool of performers these days who participate in this “Rat Pack” production, but he is quite at home with Ward and Pennycooke.
“Over the last eight or nine years they’ve had a lot of different performers since this production has been up and running,” he said, “but I’ve done it quite a bit now with Tam and Jason. I feel like we trust each other now. We’re good friends.”
Casey isn’t at all a dead ringer for Martin, but there is a resemblance.
“I heard this quote from a director once who said, ‘90 percent of directing is casting,’ ” said Casey. “That is so true. Much of this business is about typecasting, and while I had never really thought about it before, after doing this show, I heard some of my friends saying that I seemed to be very similar to Dean in many ways. So maybe it’s not that far for me to get to, but I do enjoy it. If they keep asking me, I’ll come back and do it. I wouldn’t get tired of it.”
And in real life, Casey assures us, Martin was the coolest cat of the trio.
“To me, he’s just so cool and so charismatic,” said Casey. “I heard one of his daughters say once that ‘my dad was a great dad but a terrible father.’ I really liked that. He had his problems, but he was a nice guy. We know that Frank was a gangster and Sammy, well, God bless him, he was trying to please everybody all the time. But Dean was generally a good guy. It’s been an honor and a joy to portray him.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.