Rat Pack homecoming for Phil

RACHEL BANHAM It’s time to get your ticket for the coolest party in town. As the Rat Pack brings some ring-a-ding-ding’ to the Theatre Royal this week, Rachel Banham spoke to Phil Barley – Norfolk’s answer to Dean Martin.


He wasn't even born when his alter ego was at the height of his fame, but Phil Barley has reason to feel proud as he brings the music of the Rat Pack to Norwich.

Firstly, he's long been a fan of the trio and secondly, although he's performed nationally, he retains close links with East Anglia.

Phil was born at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, was a pupil at Taverham High School and spent several years working as a mechanic, including training at Drayton Service Centre.

He later embarked on a degree in performing arts at university in the capital, including a spell studying in New York and travelling across the US.

This week he plays Dean Martin in the Olivier Award-nominated Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas - a show that has thrilled crowds on the West End stage, and played across the UK and Europe. It shows Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr and Dean Martin were not just great entertainers but also the epitome of style and inseparable friends. Filming the movie Oceans Eleven by day, they would play The Sands in Las Vegas by night, crooning, quipping and boozing their way through performances that were all about having a good time.

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Phil said: "As a performing act, they were second to none really. If you can imagine being in The Sands Hotel, and you see three of the biggest stars of the time come on the stage and just mess around for a couple of hours, singing songs and playing around . . . the electric atmosphere must have been incredible."

In the late 1950s it wasn't unusual to see Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Gregory Peck and Cary Grant in the audience.

The cast in Norfolk aims to bring some of that magic to the Theatre Royal. Favourites like Mack The Knife, Mr Bojangles, Fly Me To The Moon, New York New York, and My Way will feature - and there will be a 15-piece Rat Pack big band.

"This show tries to recreate an evening in the Sands Hotel in the late 50s," Phil said. "The music and just the kind of rebelliousness of the characters is what is so appealing to a modern-day audience, I think. There's just so much energy - it's so exciting that it's timeless."

There's no barrier to those who love the music - from people who remember the originals to others inspired by interpretations from artists like Robbie Williams, Westlife and Jamie Cullum.

"The audience is so varied all the time," Phil added. "And it's so refreshing to see that."

He has enjoyed the music of Sinatra and friends for years. His parents Betty and Terry were fans, and are among the many family and friends that will be supporting him during his Norwich shows. They still live in Taverham and work locally - his mum at the N&N and his father running a carpet-cleaning business.

His friends at Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society plan to see the show later this week.

Phil reveals he's using the same dressing room he did when starring in Carousel with the society in 1999.

"I'm having a little bit of a surreal moment," he admitted. "But it's very exciting. I'm really looking forward to the performances and seeing everyone again."

Phil originally auditioned for the part of Sinatra before being offered the Martin role. And while he's full of admiration for his colleagues playing Sinatra and Davis, who go on stage before him, he's equally thrilled with his part. "Frank Sinatra is an amazing role to do but everybody comes with a real clear preconceived idea of what he looks like, sounds like and acts like. You're really under scrutiny - but the guys that do it are just incredible. You can't have a better warm-up act than Frank Sinatra, and all the girls dancing and singing. It's a dream come true."

The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas is at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday. Tickets £4-£24.50. Call the box office for details: 01603 630000.

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