Playwright imagines Dean Martin is stuck in New Jersey

Nat Chandler is Dean Martin.  Credit: Walnut Street Theatre Nat Chandler is Dean Martin.
Credit: Walnut Street Theatre

“Memories are made of this,” sang Dean Martin, star of stage, screen and song.

A few memories of Martin with local connections are the foundation for the new show “DINO! An Evening with Dean Martin at the Latin Casino,” which previews tomorrow at Walnut Street Theatre.

The action takes place on the stage of the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill with Martin and a pianist. The rest of the band is stuck elsewhere in the midst of the Blizzard of ‘78.

“This event I kind of imagined in order to fit this idea that interested me,” says South Philly playwright Armen Pandola, who brought “The Prince” to the Walnut in 2010. “So many people like him have to reinvent themselves. When people become famous, there’s a public version of themselves and a private version. Martin was a very private person for such a huge star.”

What a star. In 1947, he teamed with comedian Jerry Lewis in Atlantic City to become the biggest showbiz draw of the era.

“They were huge,” Pandola says. “When they played the Paramount in New York, they broke records that were set by Sinatra.”

When Martin and Lewis broke up in 1956, the news rocked the nation. Martin was considered the lesser of the two talents, but he thrived out of Lewis’ shadow as a singing star (“That’s Amore”, “Everybody Loves Somebody”) and a movie star (“The Young Lions,” “Rio Bravo”).

Along the way, Martin’s public persona of the urbane ladies man with a penchant for drink was created. His Las Vegas appearances with the Rat Pack — Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop — cemented the image. In later years, the guise became a bit more boozy and womanizing on “The Dean Martin Show,” which ran from 1965 to 1974 on NBC.

It was all an act.

“The one thing I try to get into is the side of Martin where he was kind of a brooding guy, he had things in his life her regretted,” Pandola says. “He loved kids, he loved his children, and he was a devoted husband.”

So there was more to Martin than meets the eye.

“What interested me about the guy, is that like so many people I grew up with in South Philly, he’s the child of immigrant parents,” says Pandola of Martin, who was born Dino Crocetti in Ohio. “He had one foot in the old world, and one foot in the new world.”

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