“Pete ‘n’ Keely,” Music Theatre of Connecticut
by Irene Backalenick
MTC’s sprightly little musical takes us back to an earlier era, offering such
old-time favorites as “Fever,” “This Could Be the Start of Something New,” and
“Besame Mucho.” It’s a pleasant walk down memory lane. Yes, a memory piece, but
“Pete ‘n’ Keely” is considerably enhanced by the original songs of Patrick Brady
(music) and Mark Waldrop (lyrics), as well as their own adaptations of the
oldies. They capture the spirit of the ‘60s era and take it one step further.
In addition, “Pete ‘n’ Keely” offers a nice little story (book by James
Hindman) which weaves itself in and out of the musical numbers. The time is
1968, and Pete and Keely have reunited for a TV variety show on NBC. Supposedly
it is a joyous reunion. Once known as America’s “swingin’ sweethearts,” they had
formerly enjoyed a career with top billing on television, in Las Vegas, and on
the hit parade. But there is a catch. The pair, once-married, now divorced, has
not spoken for five years, not since their break-up at Caesar’s Palace. Between
those years, each had tried unsuccessfully to launch separate careers.
Thus the stage is set, and the show begins, with the sexy Tony Lawson and the
nubile Kristin Huffman playing out the roles. All is well, they assure the
audience, as they burst into “It’s Us Again.” But clearly all is not well, as
Keely accuses Pete of his past peccadilloes. She is torn between bright chatter
offered the audience and sharp barbs aimed at her ex-husband.
It is a light-weight story, but music carries the day—and Lawson and Huffman are
competent performers. Lawson’s voice is strong and melodic, and his comic style
is right on target. Huffman’s voice is less strong, but lovely and beautifully
nuanced when it comes through. They are, fortunately, backed up by a fine trio
under David Wolfson’s direction (Dan Asher, bass, Chris Johnson, drums and
Wolfson himself, piano).
The theater’s compact little stage has been transformed into a television
studio, thanks to Kevin Connors skillful direction and David Heuvelman’s clever
set design. Panels and banners swing into place as needed, and the audience
plays its part as a participating television audience. The theater’s intimacy,
once again, works in its favor.
Though every one strives to make the show work, the stars are really the songs
themselves. A high moment, as the first act closes, is Brady/Waldrop’s “The
Cross Country Tour,” which covers the Pete ‘n’ Keely’s hectic journey across the
nation. But, old and new, the songs are charmers.