Theater review: Caustic wit, swingin’ songs enliven ‘Pete ’n’ Keely’
Showmanship and swingin’ music flourish in Lake City Playhouse’s “Pete ’n’ Keely.”
Cabaret singer and local theater veteran Abbey Crawford directs and performs in this entertaining production of James Hindman, Patrick S. Brady and Mark Waldrop’s well-received off-Broadway musical. Crawford reunites with musical director Carolyn Jess; the two were also part of the Actors Repertory Theatre’s production of this show in Spokane in 2008.
Set in a glitzy NBC studio in 1968, the show follows famous singing duet Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens – once “America’s swingin’ sweethearts,” now bitterly divorced – as they attempt to restore their showbiz careers and reunite for a live television special. The couple’s on-air reunion quickly escalates into comical conflict, filled with awkward tension, phony sentiment and backbiting. Keely snarkily alludes to her ex’s wandering eye, while Pete delivers the show’s signature dig: “Those 12 years together were three of the happiest years of my life.”
Stars of the show Daniel McKeever (Pete) and Crawford (Keely) use their acting and vocal expertise to fruitfully convey the couple’s assortment of emotions – namely resentment, jealousy, anger and misery.
Their one-liners and passive-aggressive banter are comparable to that of Sonny and Cher. Their showmanship, most noticeable in the musical numbers “Cross Country Tour,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Have You Got a Lot to Learn,” is like that of Keely Smith and Louis Prima. And in physical appearance, the pair closely resemble the husband and wife old-school singing duo Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence. Crawford is elegant and raven-haired like Gorme, while McKeever has Lawrence’s wavy coif and slightly outdated tuxedoes.
In addition to their duets, McKeever and Crawford give sparkling solo performances. McKeever’s baritone bellows in “Besame Mucho,” and he makes the audience whoop and holler during his overly seductive performance of Peggy Lee’s 1958 hit, “Fever.”
As a woman scorned, Crawford lets her fiery vocals blaze in the bluesy tune “Black Coffee.” Her high-caliber performance throughout the show may be a result of her tutelage by Tony-nominated actress Sally Mayes. Mayes starred in the show’s original off-Broadway production and was one of Crawford’s instructors at a Cabaret Conference at Yale University in 2004.
Jess (who also played piano) and orchestra members Bryan Swenland (percussion) and Angus Nunes (stand-up bass) delightfully interpret Brady’s arrangement, composed mostly of Vegas lounge musical standards.
More musical than comedy – the jokes are not nearly as amusing as the vocal performances – “Pete ’n’ Keely” boasts a tuneful score worth singing about.