The sound of Bobby Darin suavely belting “Mack the Knife” isn’t what you expect to hear emanating from the beer-baptized quarter that is Old Towne Pub. But chances are that’s what will greet you when you stroll through the club’s alley door on a Tuesday night.
It isn’t Darin’s ghost haunting Pasadena; it’s actor/musician Max Hartman keeping the Rat Pack spirit alive. Under the stage moniker Max Vontaine, Hartman assumes the smooth, cigarette-waving personas of Darin, Sinatra, Dino and even Tom Jones, delivering note-perfect renditions of several dozen lounge standards against fully orchestrated backing tapes. What elevates it above karaoke is his choreography: A struggling actor by day, Hartman’s perfected the slightly cocky, wisecracking attitude and mic-dancing moves of his Rat Pack heroes. He says it was the music, not the Vegas mystique, that initially attracted him.
“I used to drive my grandmother out to visit her brother in west Texas, kind of like ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’” he recalls. “On the way to and fro, we used to listen to Sinatra records, and she always said to turn it up loud, because that’s how you should always listen to it. And my dad always listened to that, so I had an appreciation for the tunes. I’ve always loved that crooning stuff and started really getting into it.”
While still living in Dallas, Hartman put together a cabaret act with another artist who dubbed him “Max Vontaine.” After moving to Los Angeles a year and a half ago with his indie-rock band Mur, he revived his Max Vontaine act for private parties. He started playing Tuesdays at the Pub several months ago. He says he’d “certainly prefer the organic nature of [performing with] a pianist” instead of backing tapes, but he also enjoys singing with the big-band orchestration the tapes provide.
He’s currently debating whether transforming his revue into a tongue-in-cheek, multi-character send-up would make it even more of a fun night out for his small but eclectic following. A pleasantly loose, retro vibe is as key to his show’s appeal as Hartman’s confident performance. Tabletop candles and red curtains drawn across a window behind the stage enhance the sense of escaping to another place in time. Hartman pays homage to the music by spiffing up in a classy suit, going for the whole money look.
“It’s fun to dress up,” he says, chalking up his love of costumes to his theatrical background. “People don’t go to a show to see their buddy wearing the same thing they are. Otherwise it’s just karaoke.”