Director - Todd Hart
Music Director - Don Powers
Stage Manager - Cheyney Coles
Technical Director - Max Marquez
Set Designer - Jack Hardaway
Lighting Designer - Michael Winters
Properties Designer - Meredith Hinton
Costume Designer - Ric Dreumont Leal
Lead Sound Designer - Bill Eickenloff
Wigs/Hair - Burt Grant Salon
Scenic Artist - Shelbie Mac
Pete Bartel - Todd Hart
Keely Stevens - Jenny Thurman
Del DaCosta - Don Powers
Marty - Jordan Pratt
Conductor, Keyboards, Actor ? Don Powers
Upright Bass - Sean McWilliams
Percussion - Richard Shafer
Reviewed Performance 4/1/2012
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
It's 1968. We're in NYC as part of the live audience of the NBC-TV special reuniting Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens, America's favorite couple. Sponsored by Swell Shampoo, this TV show brings Pete and Keely together after 5 years of divorce to reignite their careers. Their solos haven't gone so well. Let the show begin. 5-4-3-2--.
Throughout history famous couples have risen to the top of pop culture; Cleo and Anthony, Rhett and Scarlet, Desi and Lucy, Sonny & Cher, Eydie and Steve. What these couples have in common is their fame as perfect couples who lead idyllic lives. The truth is often different.
Pete 'N' Keely tells the story of such a couple who calls it quits at the top of their fame and then finds it is too hard to be solo. America wants them to be a couple. The result is a hilarious look at a couple who exudes loving success in public but seethes backstage. Fortunately for us this seething leaks into the TV show. This musical has no major life-affirming theme, other than to stay true to the one you love, but it may question how the public blindly adores stars because of carefully crafted personas. For the audience it's a fun love story with memorable music and funny scenes of mutual terror and struggle.
Pete Bartel, played by Todd Hart, who also directs the show, typifies that male super-star quality of a 1960s pop star. Likely modeled more on Steve Lawrence than anyone else, his singing is smooth and precise, blending a little bit of camp, a little pizzazz and a whole lot of charisma. Pete has moved on from his marriage woes but still finds Keely intriguing. Hart commands the stage when he sings as easily as the star he plays. When he begins the jazzy "Fever," you just know you're going to hear something powerful and he exudes a sexuality and passion that draws you to the flame.
Keely Stevens, his former wife played by Jenny Thurman, sings her heart out while trying to hold her own with Pete in a game of keep the sponsors happy but don't miss a chance to let Pete know how good it's been for her. Thurman has such a wide vocal range with so much power that she can easily sing the high harmonies of songs like "The Cross Country Tour" and drop deep into low register for "Black Coffee." Her painful version of ?Wasn't It Fine? is soul-searing, drawing the audience deeply into her loveless regret.
Hart's Pete and Thurman's Keely are both powerful singers alone, but when they duet, they are magical. Their harmonies are smooth and precise as if they have been living and singing together for decades. But it's the chemistry between both Pete and Keely, and Hart and Thurman, which brings this tale to life. Sparks fly from the first scene and grow exponentially until the climax which which won't be spoiled here, but which are tearful and hopeful.
This is a musical comedy about two people pushed into the pressure-cooker of live TV and its high money stakes, forced to live their painful and failing lives in public. Hart and Thurman bring such a strong sense of their characters' neglected psychological needs to every scene that even when you know they're trying to stick it to each other you feel their real pain. And this is absolutely funny. They play camp throughout, a little higher class than an archetypal lounge singer, though not so high that you can't feel the oozing cheese. It is funny but a little uncomfortable, like watching your in-laws fight at the dinner table. You laugh, but not willingly.
Todd Hart's direction is very active in Pete 'N' Keely. He assembles a talented design and technical team who creates a believable TV studio. Jack Hardaway's set design creates that colorful TV studio which includes the audience. In fact, an audience member is even brought onstage for a cameo. An applause sign signals when to applaud, though the audience goes beyond the signals a lot. An empty front stage and rear riser surround the orchestra pit, permitting the couple to wander during songs. A large projection screen shows pre-show TV commercials and cartoons from '68 and interactive background shots during the live TV show. Lighting, sound and artistry are all so good I have to applaud the whole technical team.
Costumes by Rick Dreumont Leal provides a myriad of 1960s clothing fit for the king and queen of pop, and Burt Grant Salon contributes wigs that fit the clothing perfectly while outfitting the actors with style and panache. Costumes sparkle but also provide plenty of laughs.
The orchestra is important, an on-stage part of the TV show. They keep the live and provide musical backing for Pete and Keely. Don Powers, Sean McWilliams and Richard Shafer are musicians who sound like an ensemble that's been playing for years, tight and talented. They set the songs on their feet so the singers can run with them. Powers also acts as an announcer and long-time accompanist for the singing pair. He even sings harmony on one song. Musical backing for all songs is precise, efficient, perfectly balanced with the singers' volume and very full for only three instruments. Their backing for Pete's "Fever" and Keely's "Black Coffee" are exciting, driving the beat and keeping toes tapping. An unseen voice, Marty, played off-stage by Jordan Pratt, announces the TV show and talks during TV breaks.
Pete 'N' Keely is not a classical musical in the vein of Camelot or Les Miserables but it's a lot of fun to watch. Older viewers will identify with TV commercials, cartoons and theme music of the day. It tells the story of people too rich and famous to ever get close to. In the end, however, the story is about redemptive love between two people who just want to stop being lonely and find the magic they once experienced. We all can identify with that.
PETE 'N' KEELY
305 W. Main St.
Arlington, TX 76010
Runs through April 22nd
Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $17.50 - $22.00
For information and tickets, go to www.theatrearlington.org or call 817.275.7661.