Arts » Theater + Dance

Review: Pete 'n' Keely at The Studio Theater


Pete 'n' Keely is a musical about two divorced former Broadway/recording stars in 1969.  They are trying to make a comeback, professionally if not maritally, by doing a live TV variety show together.

The real audience pretends to be the studio audience.  There is an "Applause" sign that lights up to tell you when to clap, another that tells you when the TV show is "On Air."  

All of the action of the Pete 'n' Keely stage story takes place within the airing of this one Pete 'n' Keely TV special.  There is only a little dialogue so the TV show songs and the unscripted fighting that the stars do with each other in between songs are supposed to simultaneously remind the TV audience of what made the pair famous and convey to the real audience their roller coaster — and unfinished — romantic history.

The piece as a whole — with book by James Hindman and original music by Patrick Brady, original lyrics by Mark Waldrop, Patrick S. Brady and others — is a little too murky and fluffy to be deeply satisfying.  I enjoyed several aspects of ATI's production (directed by Ronn Johnstone) but the plot kept reminding me of the movie For the Boys and falling short by comparison.  

I also had trouble hearing both performers whenever they sang harmony together.  At first I thought this was an artistic choice meant to echo the strain in the characters' relationship, but the tentativeness in the harmonization was there even when the two characters were supposedly getting along.

However, whenever Judy Fitzgerald as Keely or Michael Ehlers as Pete sang solo, in tandem, or in unison, their individual voices were strong and beautiful —  real treats.  I especially loved listening to Fitzgerald sing the "Black Coffee" blues.  I also loved the elegant yearning in Ehlers' rendition of "Fever."  Their hilarious "Cross Country Tour" medley left me breathless with admiration.  

The patter from musical director Brent E. Marty was fun, too.  The three-piece band (Marty on piano, Greg Gegogeine on bass, and Greg Wolff on percussion) on the set looked and sounded good.  

There were nostalgic pleasures in each of the design elements, but I won't spoil them by describing them.


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