On Monday evening, The Brat Pack – an all-new act starring top-notch Broadway talents Kathryn Allison (Aladdin; Wicked; Company), Sam Gravitte (Wicked), Luke Hawkins (Xanadu; Harry Connick, Jr.- A Celebration of Cole Porter), and Jelani Remy (The Lion King; Ain’t Too Proud; Off-Broadway’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe) – made its debut at Birdland with a fabulous one-night-only concert of vintage showtunes, standards, and stylings inspired by the legendary group of 1960s A-list entertainers and friends known as The Rat Pack. Conceived by Remy and Gravitte, presented by group5productions, and accompanied by a six-piece band led by their masterful musical director, arranger, and orchestrator Isaac Hayward, the show featured sensational solos, duets, trios, and group numbers, exhilarating segments of tap dancing, personal reflections and witty repartee, and a spirit of camaraderie among them and with their extremely appreciative first-ever audience (who, of course, wouldn’t let them leave without an encore).
The concert opened with the group’s upbeat medley of “I’ve Got the World on a String” (with new personalized lyrics sung by Remy, who also served as emcee) and “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” They do and it was, thanks to their stellar vocals, smooth harmonies, joyful attitude, and semi-formal attire, all of which put a contemporary twist on the timeless songs and sophisticated style of the originals. It was followed by a selection of blues, jazz, swing, and showtune classics that gave each member of the Pack their time in the spotlight and the chance to share a little about themselves, their backgrounds, and philosophy, with an emphasis on their love of musical theater, the uplifting power of opportunity, acceptance, and friendship, and the sweetness it all brings to life – as optimistically expressed in Remy and Hawkins’ medley of “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” and Gravitte’s “The Best Is Yet To Come.”
There were blockbuster performances by Remy on “Birth of The Blues” and “Tomorrow” from Annie, reimagined to a jazzy beat, on which he enlisted the audience to sing along. Allison brought her powerhouse voice and full-out emotion to “Cry Me A River” (adding her own touches of humor into the mid-century torch song), followed by a flirtatious duet with Gravitte on “It Takes Two” from Into the Woods, and a new jazz arrangement of “Aquarius” from Hair, with backing vocals by the men.
Gravitte was affecting and tender in his rendition of the love ballad “Unusual Way” from Nine and joined Remy and Hawkins on a lively “Mack the Knife” (popularized by Bobby Darin’s 1959 recording on the song), which left them all laughingly questioning, “Does ANYBODY know what this means?,” then sharing in a congenial round of handshakes that evoked the mutual respect and rapport of The Rat Pack and is equally characteristic of the close-knit members of The Brat Pack. And Hawkins displayed his mastery of tap dance and choreography, along with singing, in his high-energy performances of “I Got Rhythm” and a jazz-inspired “Chim Chim Cheree” from Mary Poppins, delivering yet another “spoonful of sugar” in this treat of a show.
For the finale, all four commanded the stage with a jubilant medley of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)” and “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease, encouraging the house to join in the fun by clapping along. And the fun didn’t end there; they closed with their rich and flawless a cappella harmonies on an encore of “My Funny Valentine,” which left me – and everyone in the room – wildly clapping, cheering, and looking forward to the next appearance of The Brat Pack, and hoping it will be sooner rather than later!
Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission.
The Brat Pack played on Monday, March 13, 2023, at Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, NYC.