Stages Repertory Theatre took audiences back in time Friday night with the premiere of "Pete ‘n’ Keely". The play takes audiences to a NBC stage for the reunion of the singing duo Pete and Keely.
Director Kenn McLaughlin brings this unique musical to the stage. Taking audiences back to the TV days when shows like "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and variety shows were the rage, this musical is the ultimate throwback. Musical direction by Steven Jones keeps the tunes swinging. The simple yet impressive stage design by Kevin Holden provides the perfect background for the projections during the various musical productions. Given that the stage is literally supposed to be a TV studio, there are strategically placed "applause" signs that light up giving the audience guidance each time they need to clap. It provides both humor and relief that the audience simply needs to follow the instructions provided by the applaud signs.
(Spoiler Alert: Discussion of plot below)
Really, a two-person show, this musical is the "reunion" of the former couple and singing duo, Pete Bartel (David Wald) and Keely Stevens (Susan Koozin), and the whole production is sponsored by Swell shampoo. Surprisingly enough, the sponsor plays a rather humorous and clever part in the ultimate outcome. This dynamic duo apparently stole American hearts with their love and voices. As the musical opens, it's more than obvious this once happily ever after isn't so happy anymore.
Keely is obviously the scene-stealer and more ambitious of the duo. She takes her mark and makes her presence known. Pete appears the cool, debonair guy content to steam things up but then be on his way. He takes the audience back, as much of the first act is dedicated to Keely's backstory. It tells how she came from a small town, growing up on a farm and she performed her way to stardom.
“Sesame Mucho” the duet that highlights when the pair got their big break is a pivotal performance. It highlights both of the powerful and smooth voices from each Koozin and Wald. Throughout the first act, audiences get to see both the tender and playful side of each actor and their voice. “The Cross Country Tour” which highlights their biggest tour, the pair sing their way through it and provides an up tempo and fun end to a rather turbulent first act.
I didn't feel instantly drawn towards the disjointed pair yet as the music played and the duo relived their stormy history, audiences will find themselves pulled in, as I did. Koozin perfectly plays Keely, the ambitious, charming and obliviously heartbroken struggling star and Wald plays the charming crooner Pete who seems like a player but still has a soft spot for his now ex Keely. I found myself drawn in by this duo and by the top of the second act completely engulfed in the 1968 reunion special as if the actors before me were really struggling to maintain their careers and to renew a lost love.
As the second act opens, audiences are taken back on a flashback of a miserably failed Broadway musical the duo stared in, the boom operator doesn't even attempt to care to keep it out of the audience's view. Proving that the antics don't stop at just the singing pair, the "TV crew” gets involved as well. As Pete belts out “Lover Come Back to Me”, there is a trapped crew member desperate to get off the stage without being noticed. Both instances provide the needed Murphy's Law feel for a TV set.
During what should be a happy Christmas song, "Too Fat to Fit" Keely has enough and calls out the womanizing Pete. It's the obvious climatic build as the audience has now completely been engrossed by the spatting lovers and we anxiously wait to see if the love had, can be again.
Surprisingly, this musical, full of antics and laughs, completely comes together and the pair steals your heart. I found myself fighting a tear as they sang "Wasn’t It Fine" and “It’s Us Again- Reprise” and spoke about how they truly felt towards one another. The emotions that drive this musical are what will keep audiences coming back and re-watching. Koozin and Wald are the perfect vocal and stage pair to draw the audience in and keep them glued to their seat until the end. You feel almost transported in time as you watch this musical on stage and get lost in the atmosphere, amazing set and wonderful swinging, jiving vocals; it's hard to remember you are in 2014.
"Pete ‘n’ Keely" runs through August 31 at the Stages’ Yeager Theater. While attending “Pete ‘n’ Keely”, be sure to stop by the box office for tickets to the held over "Xanadu". This show runs until July 20th and you don't want to miss it. For ticket information concerning all Stages current and upcoming productions, visit their website at stagestheatre.com, call the Stages box office at 713-527-0123 during the hours of Monday-Saturday: 12:00 pm-6:30 pm or Sunday: 12:00 pm- 4:00 pm or pick them up by visiting the box office at 3201 Allen Parkway.