FOR Wayne Kennedy it was the best time when the best singers sang the best songs with the best backdrop.
He’s talking about the Rat Pack – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr – singing classics like Come Fly With Me, Under My Skin, Mr Bojangles and That’s Amore in Las Vegas of the mid-1960s.
“What’s not to like?” asks Wayne, who has spent the past 11 years portraying Dean Martin. “They were ultimate class. The Rat Pack in 1966 in Las Vegas, it was right time, right place. Based on the American songbook of some of the greatest songwriters of all time.”
The singer did his first show as Dean back in 2002 at Peggy’s Bar in Burton-on-Trent to a very enthusiastic audience of 11, but he stuck with it because he was convinced it would be popular.
In 2003 a major charity fundraiser requested a three-man show so he recruited a ‘Frank’ and ‘Sammy’ and it soon developed into the Rat Pack Spectacular.
“I’d got to a certain stage in my career and started thinking what would suit the latter stages,” explains Wayne, who had previously fronted a rock ’n’ roll band called The Flash Cats.
“I knew I certainly wouldn’t be doing something like Michael Jackson – but Dean Martin suits me. I’m the same size as him, there’s a bit of a resemblance and I have the same tone of voice.”
He was proved right of course. After his solo show developed into a trio – Roman Marek is Frank Sinatra, and James Jnr is Sammy Davis Jr – and now the touring show employs 26 people.
Wayne says the songs and their appeal is timeless, especially having been given a boost when Robbie Williams released his Swing When You’re Winning album which included Rat Pack classics like The Lady Is A Tramp, Mack The Knife, They Can’t Take That Away From Me and That’s Life.
“We try and change the show each year so if people have seen it before, it will be different,” he says. “Although of course there are the stock favourites that you have to leave in – the staples.
“We’re always looking to improve, we’re like Formula One – never standing still. The Rat Pack Spectacular is not a carbon copy impersonation. Some things that worked in Las Vegas in the 1960s won’t necessarily work in Woking in 2013.”
The show is completely live with a band, dancers and even a Marilyn Monroe singer (played by Joanne Leigh).
“It’s a show band rather than just guys reading the dots,” says Wayne. “And everyone is part of the show and the humour that goes along with it.”
He says the songs will last another 50 years and he’s doing his bit to hand on the music to another generation.
“The age group in the audience is right across the board anyway but we like to bring it to a new crowd if we can – so at bigger venues like Woking under-16s coming with their parents get in for free.”
Wayne says youngsters deserve the chance to hear the old classics because there’s not much in today’s music that will stand the test of time in a similar way.
“There’s nothing around now that will last as long – nothing at all as far as I can see,” he says. “There’s the occasional pop song – maybe once a year – that I think is good, but they’re very few and far between.
“The whole music business seems to gear around Saturday night TV, abusing people on The X Factor. That may be one reason why we do so well – people would much rather come out and see people singing and playing live…”
The Rat Pack Spectacular will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Thursday (November 28).