Christmas and New Year’s is that time of the year for nostalgia. For a great holiday show sure to put you in the season’s spirits enjoy A Sinatra Christmas at the Encore Dinner Theatre. Henry Prego headlines the festivities as Ol’ Blue Eyes, paying tribute to him by crooning classic Christmas tunes in the Frank Sinatra vocal style, backed by a 13-piece brassy live orchestra. The tuxedo-garbed Prego also sings Sinatra standards such as “New York, New York” in this two-act tribute modeled on the long running 1960s ABC-TV “Hollywood Palace” variety show.
Prego, who has starred in Rat Pack tributes from Las Vegas’ Sahara Hotel to London’s West End, is joined onstage by six leggy dancers in the tradition of the June Taylor Dancers, who were featured on Jackie Gleason’s variety shows, as well as of Radio City Music Hall’s high kicking Rockettes. The Encore’s hoofers, who have musical theater backgrounds, open the show clad as elves, dancing to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.” They reappear throughout the two hour or so extravaganza in various outfits, from short-short scarlet Santa suits and caps to elegant, low cut black formal dresses, performing entertaining numbers choreographed by Michael Lopez.
Whereas the Rat Pack in its various permutations performed over the years with female talents, such as Shirley MacLaine and Liza Minnelli, Henry Prego and Friends are joined by comedienne Frances Dilorinzo. The slim six-footer’s credits include NBC’s Last Comic Standing, ABC’s Comics Unleashed and Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County. Much of her routine revolves around self deprecatory humor a la Phyllis Diller and Dilorinzo’s trying to get into the act with the guys, Lucy-like. But Dilorinzo’s funniest riff is perfect for SoCal, which is Ground Zero for plastic surgery: a knee slapping bit about breast augmentation surgery. Another female standout during the swinging songfest is the jazzy Peggy Duquesnel, who tickles the ivories.
During the fast moving proceedings Prego introduces Elijah Rock as “a triple threat,” because the multi-talented artist can act, dance and sing. Rock recently starred in Breath and Imagination: The Story of Roland Hayes, a bioplay about the first African American concert singer of classical songs, who preceded Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson, which was recently presented at Burbank’s Colony Theatre. To be frank (no pun intended!), the versatile Rock stole the Encore’s show. Like Sinatra’s fellow Rat Packer, Sammy Davis Jr., Rock tap danced up a storm and belted out numbers that are part of Sammy’s canon, like “The Candy Man.” However, Rock also sang songs that aren’t associated with Sammy, such as “Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It),” which Marlene Dietrich put on the musical map. Rock rocked the Encore Dinner Theatre and was the best part of the entire show. According to Elijah and the venue’s owner, Peter Zappas, in the Spring Rock will return to the Encore Dinner Theatre for an encore, in the form of a full-on tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.
I had been told that the matinee’s show time was 2:00 p.m., but we arrived by 1:30 because there was no traffic on the 5 Freeway. I easily found the Encore Dinner Theatre off of the Newport Blvd. exit, ensconced in a strip mall at wonderful downtown Tustin. As we were half an hour early and saw nobody lined up at the glass doors, we thought we’d have to cool our heels for 30 minutes or so. But the Theatre wasn’t locked, and after picking up our tix at the ticket booth we entered what we expected would be an empty venue. But boy, were we ever wrong!
The joint was hopping, and my party was led to the last empty booth. Zappas later advised ticket buyers to arrive 90 minutes before the curtain in order to leisurely dine prior to show time. In any case, our service was extremely attentive and lickity split, as we ordered soft and alcoholic drinks, salads with white balsamic basil vinaigrette dressing and appetizers, including a delicious, ample stuffed Portobello mushroom (really, more than enough for two diners) and lobster bisque. The entrees, which we ate in the dark during the performance, ranged from roasted free range lemon pepper chicken to blackened white roughy filet to beef brisket, all served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The plentiful portions were followed, during intermission, by scrumptious desserts, including a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake.
A Sinatra Christmas may be a bit old fashioned, but, as said, this is the time of the year when old acquaintances — on- and offstage — shouldn’t be forgotten. The whole Encore Dinner Theatre experience was well worth the trip down to the O.C. A good time was had by all — you don’t have to be a rat to love the Rat Pack!
This is the last weekend before A Sinatra Christmas takes its final bow. Show times are Friday, Dec. 27 and Saturday, Dec. 28 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 29 at 2:00 p.m. at the Encore Dinner Theatre, 690 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92780. On New Year’s Eve the Encore presents “Funniest Housewives of Orange County” and on Jan. 10 Grease — The Musical opens. For more info: (855)545-5400.