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Swing shift: (another) Rat Pack revival



To the uninitiated, the top-shelf trio affectionately dubbed The Rat Pack might seem little more than three past-their-prime drunks cutting it up for a roomful of their friends. Sit down; you're rockin' the boat, pally. Sure, they acted liquored-up (apparently a ruse, as they waited until after the curtain closed to imbibe) and bathed in their obvious stardom, but a fair appraisal of the evidence collected during those glimmering glory days of the '60s reveals the true magic created when The Pack -- Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., plus part-timers Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford -- performed their nightclub act. Their influence has endured throughout the ages, ebbing and flowing with movie releases and funeral arrangements.

The sustained roar is in no small part due to an impressive legacy, the crowning achievement of which is the 1960 Vegas-heist flick "Ocean's 11;" the star-powered remake (George Clooney, Brad Pitt) opens Friday, Dec. 7. Also coinciding with the opening is the release of two brand-new CD packages celebrating the freewheeling spirit of the core threesome: "Eee-O 11: The Best of The Rat Pack" and "Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr.: The Rat Pack Live at the Sands," both released by Capitol Records.

And if that isn't enough old-schoolery for you, local swing kid Michael Andrew has returned from California and launched yet another weekly installment of Rat Pack-inspired fun. Not since the 1996 film "Swingers" brought lounge-living back into the mainstream consciousness has the furor surrounding "The Leader," "Dag" and "Smokey" been so great.

Why do they remain such untouchable icons, these mythical superentertainers? It's simple, you just can't manufacture that kind of cool (paging Mr. Connick). If you were running with The Pack, you knew all the hottest ladies (broads, back then), lived a glamorous lifestyle and had friends in both the White House and the Mafia.

"They just each had this amazing talent and amazing presence," says Andrew. "The three of them were definitely unbelievable superstars. It's less than a once-in-a-lifetime happening when you get entertainment geniuses together."

Andrew is currently working on a special Sinatra tribute record due in fall 2002. It's a CD he tracked using Frank's actual studio and microphone. While Frank and Dean are usually looked at as the main guys, Andrews is quick to point out that Sammy was the sleeper of the bunch.

"Sammy Davis Jr. is probably the greatest entertainer there ever was, and that's according to a lot of the great stars," says Andrew. "The guy is perhaps the best dancer there ever was. He was just so highly underrated as a dancer, because he was known as a singer. ... He did impersonations, ... things that make live entertainment so entertaining."

After a yearlong absence from Orlando, Andrew and Swingerhead are back in the swing of things Monday nights at CityJazz at Universal CityWalk. The Michael Andrew and Swingerhead's USO Tour show is an attempt to rekindle the salad days of Orlando's own swing/lounge set, which enjoyed a healthy two-year run starting in late 1997 at the late Jani Lane's Sunset Strip. The response was so huge that the club rechristened itself as Rat Pack's on the Avenue -- now home to Bar Orlando -- and changed its format to follow the bucking trend. In the process, the club netted all kinds of national news coverage and played host to some of the best retro-bands from across the globe. By 1999, however, the boom had gone bust and Rat Pack's, well, packed it in.

Now the gang's back -- including DJ Spinman Wally; promoter Stace Bass, and Ray Stines, former owner of Rat Pack's and now the entertainment manager at CityWalk -- this time for the patriotic-themed throw-down. Kicked off two weeks ago, Andrew's show continues into the new year.

Happenings like the "USO Tour" are no doubt inspired by The Pack's legendary stage act. An evening with Frank-Dean-Sammy wasn't just a concert, but a not-to-be-missed event filled with fabulous singing, muggy impressions and saucy, politically incorrect jibes. So, do yourself a favor and sample the pure revelry of "The Rat Pack Live at the Sands," a previously unreleased recording that captured the merry triumvirate at the Copa Room one fine evening in 1963. The medley performed by Dean and Frank -- who take up most of the time on the mike -- is a thing of rare beauty.

For a taste of the Pack's studio prowess, take a listen to "Eee-O 11: The Best of the Rat Pack," a greatest-hits compilation that boasts the trio's solo highlights between 1952-1964, including Frank's "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die," Dean's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," and Sammy's "A Lot of Lovin' to Do." Each cut is brimming with that Rat Pack swagger.

Not everyone is feeling so ba-da-bing! Hard-core devotees of The Pack (Frank preferred the nickname The Summit) are crying foul over the "Ocean's 11" remake, even calling for a boycott of the Clooney/ Pitt vehicle. They know that neither is as cool as Frank, Dean or Sammy. And no one ever will be.

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