Highly Recommended ***** I remember growing up with a slogan “Wanzer on milk is like sterling on silver”! For our purposes, in describing the new production at the Royal George Theatre, produced by Hershey Felder, I must say, ” theater productions involving Hershey Felder are like pure gold” ! This production, “Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at the Sahara”, Taylor Hackford’s Award Winning story of the Las Vegas stars, who changed the nature of the “Lounge Act” in Vegas. Hackford has managed to bring the magic of this duo of the 1950’s. Louis Prima (an incredible performance by Anthony Crivello) was an aging performer in the world of “Jazz”. In his waning years, he found that by bringing on a young girl, with lots of talent and very little experience, Miss Keely Smith (a dynamic performance by Vanessa Claire Stewart, who is also a co-author of the play along with Hackford and Jake Broder), a very young singer into the act. The duo took off and became a major part of Las Vegas history.
Prima took Smith under his wing and created a star. She was adored by all as she sang expressionless, but her voice won the hearts of every audience. When they were offered a two week “gig” at the Sahara in Vegas, asked to do five shows a night, not in the show rooms, but in the casino lounges, people fell in love with the duo, making them the hottest attraction and making every casino view this new concept in entertainment. After all, gambling can be 24 hours a day, so why not keep the gamblers happy as they roll their life savings into Vegas profits?
The younger audience members will probably not have heard much about this duo, who had a great love affair as they grew together into a family, and later, apart. They will see a strong resemblence to Sonny & Cher, who truly copied this couple and became a modern day version. Prima, in my opinion was aces over Sonny and Cher, who might have been a bit sexier, could not hold a candle to the magic that Keely Smith created. Some of the oldies in this production;”What is This Thing Called Love” ,”I Can’t Believe Your In Love With Me”, “Hey Boy, Hey Girl”, “Night Train”, “Ai,Ai,Ai” and of course their most famous “That Ol’ Black Magic”. There is also a special rendition of “The Autumn Leaves” which has a lot to do with the story. Her first solo, “I Wish You Love” will cause goose bumps on many audience members who recall hearing her sing this song.
This is a very special 90 plus minutes (no intermission) of magic on stage. A love story that had to be told and is told in a very special way. The set is simple- a stage that is a bandstand with two side stages that come out to take us different places. This is not a glitzy play/musical but in fact a solid love story being told in a very realistic manor. Louis fell in love with this young girl that made him a star and she with him. Although they drifted apart, I truly think they were one of the 20th centuries greatest love stories, and I love the way that Felder’s staff presents it on the intimate stage at The Royal George.
While it is the two stars that make the story, it is the ensemble that makes this the stellar production it is. Erin Matthews who takes on numerous female roles is dynamite, Paul Perroni as Frank Sinatra (and others) is also top-notch. Paul Litteral (musical director/Trumpet), Jeremy Kahn (Piano), Dan Johnson (Trombone), Bill Overton (Baritone Sax/Guitar/Clarinet). Jon Paul (Bass),Michael Solomon (Percussion) and Colin Kupka as Sam Butera who truly makes the theater vibrate as he handles the Tenor sax! these musicians are the best!
From start to finish, this is a production that is both entertaining and educational (one of Felder’s trademarks), with a set (by Hershey, himself), choreography by Vernel Bagneris, video design by Mariya Tatarintseva, sound by Erik Carstensen, lighting by Richard Norwood and costumes by Melissa Bruning and Christianna Rogers. They say true perfection can only be completed when all the players have their heart and soul into the creation of the work. based on what I saw at tonight’s opening, this group has met their goal.
“Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at the Sahara” in what we call an open schedule with performances as follows:
Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m.
Tickets are $65 (seniors $55) and are available at the box office located at the theater 1641 N. Halsted (just north of North Avenue), by calling 312-988-9000 or online at www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com
Valet parking is available at the theater door, or at some of the nearby restaurants. There is also street parking, mostly metered an dThe Royal george is very easy to get to via public transportation (just a short walk from the Red Line Clybourn station).
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at the Sahara”