By Lois Mittino Gray
New Harmony Theatre’s “Pete’N’Keely” took me back to a time long ago where I was freshly bathed in my new yellow mandarin pajamas at grandma’s house ready to watch “Hollywood Palace” on tv for our swingin’ Saturday night. That’s long, long ago….
New Harmony Theatre veteran Steve Small opened the production announcing the Pete’N’Keely Reunion Television Show “is brought to you by Swell Shampoo, the shampoo that puts the oooh in shampoo” and the fun began. As Marty, the boom-voiced announcer, the local entertainer made us feel right on the set of the 1968 televised reunion of Pete and Keely, America’s singing sweethearts from the 1950’s.
The problem is the duo are now divorced and dealing with their emotions over the split in this final offering of the 2012 Silver Anniversary 25th Season of the New Harmony Theatre. It is a delightful musical, written by James Hindman, Patrick S. Brady, and Mark Waldrop and features many recognizable songs, such as ”Secret Love” and “Georgia on My Mind”.
The set is a television studio with a television monitor showing the NBC Peacock spreading its wings as Marty announces “Bonanza will return at its same time next week”
Countdown 5,4,3,2,1 , the applause sign goes on, the lights go up and the perky couple come out to begin their televised special. They announce it will be a musical homage to moments that got us where we are today. “Divorced”, Keely adds dryly.
The television monitor flashes baby pictures of the pair as the musical journey begins. Kirsti Carnahan is terrific as Keely and she starts the ball rolling as Little Miss Cowchip in Kansas who came in second on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. She meets Pete who is singing “Besame Mucho” in the family’s Italian restaurant and this becomes the “Start of Something Big”. Best selling albums, Carnegie Hall appearances, the cover of Life Magazine all add up to fame for “America’s Sweethearts”, ala Steve and Edie.
One of the outstanding numbers is a review of their whirlwind crosscountry tour doing 64 cities in 47 weeks. As vintage postcards flash on the monitor, the pair sing snippets in a medley to all the locations from “Shufflin off to Buffalo” to “Oklahoma”. They also star in a Broadway musical “Tony and Cleo” and they shine as they sing and dance as the ancient Egyptian lovers.
The upbeat musical turns poignant as they go to the period when they “fly solo” and do their own thing. Pete, wonderfully portrayed by Paul Binotto, sings a hot “Fever” rendition to his very young “special someone” in the audience as Keely seethes. Keely counters with a torch song of her own. Both made solo albums. Pete’s is “Other Fish in the Sea” and Keely’s “A Go Go”. The problem is no one bought the recordings as the pair spirals downward to nowheresville.
During commercial breaks, the still-in-love singers wisecrack to each other and barbs fly cruelly over weight gain, hair loss and drinking too much. There is irony in their final album, Merry Christmas music called “On Thin Ice”. By the finale, the couple realize what they have gone through as the television special ends with “That’s All” and sweet possibilities.
Former NHT Artistic Director Scott LaFeber returned to direct this offering and work with old friends again. Veteran costume designer Shan Jensen had wowser costumes for Keely from purple shoes to a teal twist dress. I especially loved the Egyptian costumes! Lighting is by Eric Cope, and sound by Jonathan Lee. The stage designed by Ron Naversen made me feel right in the tv studio. Musical Director Kenney M. Green and his combo were terrific and together.
.Pete’N’Keely will run at the Murphy Auditorium until Sunday, August 5. Total time is One hour and 45 minutes including one intermission. Remember that the auditorium can get quite cool without a sweater.
Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Ticket prices are $29 adult, $27 seniors, and $12 for age 24 years and under. Groups of 20 or more qualify for special rates.
To order tickets or for more information, call 877/NHT-SHOW or visit the site www.newharmonytheatre.com
By Lois Mittino Gray
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