April 3, 2008 in Features

ARt’s got ‘Pete ‘n’ Keely,’ babe

By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Abbey Crawford, left, and Curt Olds play Pete and Keely, a ‘60s lounge act in “Pete ‘n’ Keely,” an Actor’s Repertory Theatre production.
(Full-size photo)

ARt season

The 2008-09 season of the Actor’s Repertory Theatre will include the controversial 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt,” about a priest sexual abuse case.

Here’s the complete schedule announced this week:

•”The Importance of Being Earnest” – Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy of manners and mistaken identities. Aug. 22-Sept. 6.

•”Doubt” – John Patrick Shanley’s searing Broadway hit about a priest suspected of molesting a male student. It won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Sept. 19-Oct. 4.

•”Relatively Speaking” – Alan Ayckbourn’s early 1965 entry in what became a famous string of comic British farces. Dec. 5-20.

•”Swansong” – A 2006 play about the extraordinary friendship between William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, written by Patrick Page, a New York actor and playwright who was born in Spokane. Jan. 9-24.

•”Steel Magnolias” – Robert Harling’s well-loved comedy-drama centered around Truvy’s beauty parlor in Louisiana. April 3-18, 2009.

Season subscriptions are on sale for $85 ($75 for seniors) by calling (509) 838-4013.

For the names “Pete ‘n’ Keely,” feel free to substitute Steve ‘n’ Eydie.

The 2000 off-Broadway hit “Pete ‘n’ Keely” is a musical sendup of married ‘60s lounge acts such as Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.

At times, it might also remind you of a slightly longer-haired ‘60s act.

“It’s more Sonny and Cher, in my opinion,” said Broadway veteran Curt Olds, who will play Pete in the Actor’s Repertory Theatre production.

“That’s because the banter between Sonny and Cher was always more mean-spirited. Steve and Eydie were always friendly with each other.”

The fictional Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens are a lot snippier, because of the state of their personal lives. They had an early bout of stardom, divorced acrimoniously and went their separate ways on disastrous solo careers.

When we encounter them, they’re making a desperate attempt at a comeback. They’ve reunited for a big TV special in 1968. Expect to see a lot of bell-bottoms, psychedelic colors and “hip” banter.

“They think they’re being hip,” said Olds. “But they’re not hip at all. The whole thing is total kitsch and camp.”

“Pete ‘n’ Keely” is a landmark event for the Actor’s Repertory Theatre: the first musical ever staged at this professional theater since its founding in 2003.

It’s not exactly a traditional musical comedy in the Rodgers and Hammerstein mold, but it certainly is full of music.

It contains 22 songs, many of which are standards such as “Fever” and “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” Patrick S. Brady and Mark Waldrop also wrote a few original songs, which are intended to move the story along, while still sounding like standards.

James Hindman wrote the script.

Director Michael Weaver has assembled a cast with outstanding musical credentials.

Keely is played by Abbey Crawford, Spokane’s talented cabaret singer and one of the area’s top musical comedy performers. You might know her from her day job: half of the morning team on KXLY-FM (The River, 99.9).

Musical director Carolyn Jess doubles as Del DaCosta, the duo’s long-suffering accompanist.

Originally from Butte, Olds got his start in theater at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse in Montana, where he met Weaver. He went on to appear on Broadway in “Riverdance,” “Cats” and “The Three-Penny Opera.”

Olds also is an accomplished operatic baritone who is in demand by opera companies around the country, including the New York City Opera, the Arizona Opera and the National Savoyards. His signature roles include Papageno in “The Magic Flute” and Koko in “The Mikado.”

So, isn’t the character of Pete a change of pace? Sure, but that opera training certainly comes in handy.

“The role is actually operatic, in some ways,” said Olds. “We sing 22 songs, just the two of us, the whole night. We really have to pace it. Besides, this is my kind of music, too.”

Olds, who lives in New York, was instrumental in bringing this show to ARt.

“I saw it off-Broadway and sort of fell in love with it,” he said. “It was always sitting on the shelf as something I wanted to do.”

He was talking to his old friend Weaver one day when Weaver mentioned he would like to try a musical at ARt.

“I said, ‘This one would be perfect for you,’ ” said Olds.

It took a year or two to line up their schedules, but now “Pete ”n’ Keely” will finally come alive at ARt.

Let the lounge crooning begin.

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