Dec. 5, 2010
Corey Levitan | FEAR AND LOAFING
Let me be frank with you: Don't let me be Frank with you. One of the last places I belong is performing in Frank Sinatra's shiny shoes on a Vegas stage. So here I am, of course, starring in "The Rat Pack is Back" at the Plaza downtown.
I've got the finger snapping, the fedora angle, and I didn't trip making my entrance before the 12-piece band. I'm singing the first song only: Rodgers and Hart's "Where or When." That's because it's lit mostly from behind so, producer Dick Feeney hopes, no one will clearly notice that Sinatra looks more like Sonny Bono without a moustache (although they are bound to notice that his silhouette is shorter than Sammy Davis, Jr.'s).
I strut over to the microphone and open my kisser.
"It seems we've stood and talked like this before."
A perfect Sinatra imitation wows the audience of 250. Fly me to the moon! I'm as surprised as anyone in the know.
Maybe it was the solid month I practiced around the house every other waking moment, nearly earning myself an ex-wife.
Maybe it was the expert coaching from Ol' Fake Blue Eyes, Brian Duprey. (He wears colored contact lenses.)
"Is that your real voice?" Duprey inquired on the same stage during rehearsals.I can carry a tune. But carrying it down to Sinatra's register from Alvin and the Chipmunks required homework. If anybody wonders what Sinatra sounded like after inhaling helium at a party, I'm your impersonator.
"What is this nasally business?" Duprey asked. He was so completely in character, my feet readied themselves for cement shoes.
Not only does Duprey have the look and speaking voice down, he croons so realistically, Sinatra's daughter Nancy once mistook a Duprey recording of "The Lady is a Tramp" for her father.
"That's him," she told Howard Stern, who corrected her.
"Are you sure?" she asked the radio host.
Duprey, 36, grew up digging Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Neil Diamond outside Providence, R.I.
"My mom liked that style of music," Duprey said. "Perhaps it was her influence."
Duprey sang in the jazz ensemble at Connecticut's Fairfield University. But life led him to the marketing department of a pharmaceutical company.
"I never wanted to sing for a living," he said. "It was always something I could do at karaoke bars."
About 10 years ago, Duprey won a talent competition aboard a Carnival cruise that didn't lose electricity.
"Everybody's like, 'You should do this for a living,' " he recalled.
In 2002, he listened. An agent booked him crooning standards with a piano player in the main Caesars Palace lounge. That led to a gig with "Legends in Concert" and then the audition with "The Rat Pack is Back."
"You're talking about the most important singer in Las Vegas history!" Duprey said back at rehearsal.
He's right. The Chairman of the Board -- who performed regularly here from 1951 until 1994 -- notched up the entertainment bar in Vegas, establishing it as the playground for Hollywood headliners that it remains today. Sinatra, Davis, Dean Martin and Joey Bishop played together both on and off stage, even filming a movie, 1960's "Ocean's Eleven," just as an excuse to hang here. (They didn't call themselves the Rat Pack, though, preferring "the summit" or "the clan.")
Evidence of Sinatra's legacy in today's Vegas is not hard to find. In addition to "The Rat Pack is Back" at the Plaza, "Sinatra: Dance With Me," a Twyla Tharp production pairing his real voice with another live big band, moves into Wynn Las Vegas next weekend. And "Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack Show" -- a splinter Frank/Dean/Sammy/Joey group -- croons over at the Riviera.
"We looked at each other in the same way then."
Hmm. The second line of "Where or When" is night and day. It sounds distinctively less impressive, a lot more like well, like me.
Nancy would not be fooled.
OK, so maybe all the practice and expert coaching wasn't what made the song's opening line sound so perfect. Maybe it was Kenny Jones (the fake Sammy), who unleashed his Sinatra impression after I screwed up and missed my cue to come in.
At least I did it my way.
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.