Louis & Keely: ‘Live’ at the Sahara
Reviewed by Pauline Adamek
The Geffen Playhouse
Through Jan. 17
A hit at Sacred Fools back in 2008, Louis & Keely: ‘Live’ at the Sahara proved to have legs; it’s been picked up and revamped several times over prior to its current production at the Geffen Playhouse.
Reworked by director Taylor Hackford, this effervescent musical charts the careers and tumultuous marriage of aging New Orleans jazz singer, Louis Prima (now played by Anthony Crivello) and his teenage muse, Keely Smith (Vanessa Claire Stewart, who has reprised the role throughout the show’s many incarnations). Paul Perroni and Erin Matthews also appear as numerous supporting characters.
Lewis and Keely took Las Vegas by storm during the 1950s, as their their signature sound and on-stage repartee “played pretty for the people.” For this staging, Hackford has amped up the off-stage personal storyline. Co-written by Vanessa Claire Stewart, Taylor Hackford and Jake Broder (who first appeared in the Prima role), the narrative, relayed by Prima, takes us through the ups and downs of their partnership. The duo is expertly backed by a seven person jazz outfit led by Paul Litteral; the group stands in for Louis’ band ‘The Witnesses’ and features a smoking brass section that rounds out the bold, big band sound.
The staging is simple but effective, with nine discs suspended above the band that function as projection screens for Christopher Ash’s stills and video images reflecting 1950s showbiz. While the story keeps us engaged, the show is really about the songs, with such jazz standards such as ‘That Ol’ Black Magic,’ ‘Pennies from Heaven,’ and ‘Just a Gigolo,’ all gorgeously rendered.
Stepping into the Prima role, Broadway star Crivello delivers a smooth yet suitably raspy rendition of those sliding vocals, which pair well with his distinctive Italian accent. Stewart charms as Keely, transitioning nicely from a green 17-year-old to a more seasoned club singer turned headliner.
All in all, Louis & Keely: ‘Live’ at the Sahara is a fun and swinging show.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat 3 p.m. & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; through Jan. 17. (310) 208-5454 or http://geffenplayhouse.com/louis-keely; Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.