Thursday, March 26, 2009

latest review - Louis & Keely

photos: michael lamont
Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara

Geffen Playhouse - Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater
directed by Taylor Hackford
through April 26 with possibility of extension through May
written by and starring Award-winning Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder
as Keely Smith and Louis Prima
In its third LA incarnation (before the Geffen it played the Sacred Fools and Matrix Theatres), this multi-award-winning musical play continues to ROCK!!!!!
Taylor Hackford has taken over the direction and what he has achieved is to tighten the dramatic core of the piece. By introducing new characters - Frank Sinatra and the various females in Prima's life, including his third wife - the personal conflict between Prima and Smith becomes more intense, as well as the friction in their professional relationship. When Smith was asked to record sans Prima, she became the star of the act, pushing Prima into the background. Sinatra became Smith's friend, helping her land a solo album at Capitol Records, and her confidant during Prima's extramarital affairs and... eventual lover, which pushed Prima to the brink.
Broder and Smith's performances remain mesmerizing. Broder's total immersion inro Prima's raw musicality and Sicilian skin must be experienced to be believed. Erin Matthews carries off the various females with ease and versatility, and Nick Cagle as Sinatra is attractive with a pleasant voice, but sounds nothing like Sinatra. Audiences are so familiar with the Chairman of the Board that there should be some instant recognition to help make the character & relationship with the duo more plausible.
Vibrant set pieces by Joel Daavid, costumes by Melissa Bruning, and the use of additional colorful background projections also designed by Daavid make the production slicker. After all, this is set in Las Vegas, so the flashier the better! The substitution of some new songs enriches the dramatic impact, especially at the end with "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me" when Prima learns the extent of Smith's infidelity with Sinatra. The song onstage, followed by the volatile confrontation backstage, are both electric.
I would like to hear more banter between Prima and the band, as before, but that is neither here nor there; the musicians once again are the best.
Stellar show!
5+ out of 5 stars


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