Iconic crooners don't get any more comfy than Dean Martin, who ambled through his performing life with supreme ease and deceptive artistry, most apparent when he wasn't making fun of himself. Supposedly, he was so cool that his heart beat only five times a minute.
But that's not what you see with Dino! An Evening With Dean Martin at the Latin Casino, now playing to full-ish houses at the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio.
The show's conceit is that Martin arrives at Cherry Hill's Latin Casino in 1978 amid a snowstorm and without his band. So he sings all his hits with only a pianist (David Jenkins), which means Dino! is a low-maintenance, low-ambition cabaret show, directed by Fran Prisco and with biographical between-songs patter by Armen Pandola. It seems to have caught on with the nostalgia crowd - it has been extended - but it comes with a possibly impossible conundrum.
Impersonating Dean Martin risks being campy and false. In what feels like a work in progress, Nat Chandler goes about a third of the way. But is it the right third? You get the tired drunk jokes, lots of the signature songs such as "Everybody Loves Somebody," accounts of Martin's upbringing in Steubenville, Ohio, and whitewashed accounts of his various divorces, from wives to Jerry Lewis. You could get most of this from Wikipedia.
Chandler doesn't attempt to look like Martin, but captures a bit of his manner and some of his vocal phrasing, though the vocal Dino zone keeps him in his less-interesting lower range - and in a voice that's not his. Only at the end does Chandler shed the vocal lid and show what he can really do. So you have a bit of Martin, a bit of Chandler, and not much of anything. Who'd have thought that playing Dean Martin would be such a burden?
Through June 30 at the Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio. Tickets: $35-$45.
Contact: 215-574-3550 or www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org.EndText