Sunday, May 10, 2009
LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA
Written & Performed by Jake Broder & Vanessa Claire Smith
Directed By Taylor Hackford
Where & When: The Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse April 29, 2009 8:00PM
I know this blog is called "I Luv Movies" but I love theater almost just as much. So, from time to time, I will mention some theater I have seen. which I will recommend... or advise to avoid like a bad case of the clap.
I didn't go to the theater nearly as offen as I would like because I had difficulty finding someone to go with me. I don't mind going to a movie by myself but I just have the hardest time going to see a play without someone sitting next to me.
Luckily, I found Linda. We used to work together and she had complained to me about the exact same thing. Light bulbs went off... and we have been going together ever since. What I love about going with her is that even if the play is mediocre or just really bad, (We have been fortunate to, in our opinion, have only seen a couple "really bad" in the last three years) she always finds something positive to say about it.
I wish I had that gift.
There is a movie connection to this play... It is directed by Taylor Hackford who is much better known as a film director. He has directed "An Officer and A Gentleman " and last year's "Defiance" to name two of his films. In fact, that is how he got involved in directing this play. He was working on a film on this couple when he saw this play. At the time it was at the Sacred Fools, a small theater in Hollywood. He enjoyed it and wanted to get involved in transferring this to a bigger stage and potentially larger audiences.
I went to see this mainly because Linda is a big Keely Smith fan. I had heard of their names but was completely unacquainted with them or their music. So it seemed like a perfect opportunity to get educated.
The play opens in a hospital, with Louis Prima in a coma. This happened from complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor. The heart monitor starts beating faster, creating a rhythm... He rises. We are now inside of his head and he begins to tell us about himself.
He takes us back to his heyday in the 1950's when he was a big name in music. We are soon transported to the stage where Louis is enthusiastically performing with his band. We really learn all about him just from watching him, his joy in sharing the music with an audience. That's what he lives for and all consuming.
Later while at club, Louis reluctantly lets a young girl audition for him. She was nervous but he was mesmerized by her and her talent. This girl is Keely Smith and he knew she had the potential to be great performer. The combination of his skills and experience and her natural gift made them a winning team.
They soon became one of the hottest acts in America, traveling the country before settling in Sin city. They also fell in love and get married. While in Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra suggests that Keely make a solo record. Mr. Sinatra also suggests that he would like to get to know Keely more... intimately. She declines the latter offer but decides to do the recording although she is concerned about Louis' reaction. Frank smoothly convinces him it's a great idea to the point of making Louis think he came up with it.
Keely's star begins to start burning bright while Louis begins to cool. This puts a strain on their relationship and Louis retreats into the arms of several welcoming female fans. Keely has had enough of his philandering and finds herself drifting into the comforting arms of Mr. Sinatra.
During one performance, Louis refused to conduct Keely. She walks out on him and the act which promptly put an end to one of the most successful musical teams.
Throughout the play we are treated to many of the songs which made them famous including "Hey Boy, Hey Girl", "Angelina" and "That Old Black Magic".
Since I am unfamiliar with Louis Prima and Keely Smith, I don't know how much of their spirit is captured in this play. Mr. Broder is the stand out, in great voice and boundless energy. He bounces from one end of the stage to the other and you can't keep your eyes off of him. Ms Smith (no relation) has a pleasant voice but she didn't leave a lasting impression in her singing or acting. The band really rocks the house.
The theater is small, seating no more than 150, which does create an intimate nightclub feeling. This is also a problem because the stage is too small for such a big story. The location changes required in the play were not fully realized. The production does well using the space to the maximum but I still did find it a little distracting.
I think this has an opportunity to go from a good play to a great play. The moving to a larger venue and additional production enhancements with do the trick. I also hope Mr. Hackford gets a chance to make a film of this as well.
I keep referring to this as a play instead of a musical but I think it is more of a play with music than a traditional musical. It doesn't matter... It is certainly worth seeing so do something different...
Get out of the house and GO TO THE THEATER!