"Pete ‘n’ Keely"
Music Theatre of Connecticut, Westport
MTC’s sprightly little musical takes us back to an earlier era, offering such old-time favorites as “Fever,” “This Could Be the Start of Something New,” and “Besame Mucho.” It’s a pleasant walk down memory lane. Yes, a memory piece, but “Pete ‘n’ Keely” is considerably enhanced by the original songs of Patrick Brady (music) and Mark Waldrop (lyrics), as well as their own adaptations of the oldies. They capture the spirit of the ‘60s era and take it one step further.
In addition, “Pete ‘n’ Keely” offers a nice little story (book by James Hindman) which weaves itself in and out of the musical numbers. The time is 1968, and Pete and Keely have reunited for a TV variety show on NBC. Supposedly it is a joyous reunion. Once known as America’s “swingin’ sweethearts,” they had formerly enjoyed a career with top billing on television, in Las Vegas, and on the hit parade. But there is a catch. The pair, once-married, now divorced, has not spoken for five years, not since their break-up at Caesar’s Palace. Between those years, each had tried unsuccessfully to launch separate careers.
Thus the stage is set, and the show begins, with the sexy Tony Lawson and the nubile Kristin Huffman playing out the roles. All is well, they assure the audience, as they burst into “It’s Us Again.” But clearly all is not well, as Keely accuses Pete of his past peccadillos. She is torn between bright chatter offered the audience and sharp barbs aimed at her ex-husband.
It is a light-weight story, but music carries the day—and Lawson and Huffman are competent performers. Lawson’s voice is strong and melodic, and his comic style is right on target. Huffman’s voice is less strong, but lovely and beautifully nuanced when it comes through. They are, fortunately, backed up by a fine trio under David Wolfson’s direction (Dan Asher, bass, Chris Johnson, drums and Wolfson himself, piano).
The theater’s compact little stage has been transformed into a television studio, thanks to Kevin Connors skillful direction and David Heuvelman’s clever set design. Panels and banners swing into place as needed, and the audience plays its part as a participating television audience. The theater’s intimacy, once again, works in its favor.
Though every one strives to make the show work, the stars are really the songs themselves. A high moment, as the first act closes, is Brady/Waldrop’s “The Cross Country Tour,” which covers the Pete ‘n’ Keely’s hectic journey across the nation. But, old and new, the songs are charmers.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 6, 2010