Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara Review - Let the Good Times Roll!


Louis Prima and Keely Smith and their relationship, both professional and personal, has been the recurring inspiration for several theater productions which have offered revisions, new cast members, and expansion on the finer points of the Louie Prima and Keely Smith story. First produced in 2006 as a musical revue, LOUIS AND KEELY LIVE AT THE SAHARA gained momentum and grew into a full-fledged musical (plot and all) in 2009 with dashes of “Pygmalion” and splashes of “A Star is Born” to leaven the mix. Written by current director Taylor Hackford, Vanessa Claire Stewart (Keely in the current show), and Jake Broder (the original Louie in past productions) and brought to the stage by impresario Hershey Felder, the current version has continued to expand with added musical numbers and deeper characterizations.


Vanessa Claire Stewart and Anthony Crivello - Photo by Hershey Felder Presents



LOUIS AND KEELY LIVE AT THE SAHARA is first and foremost a love story about the experienced and already well-known New Orleans jazz musician Louie Prima, who has fallen on hard times, and his meeting with the 17-year-old innocent, Keely Smith. The two discover a blend of musical styles which invigorates Louie’s former repertoire - and the rest is musical history. When Louie, a “man about town” with a reputation among the ladies, falls hard for Keely, the two begin a romantic as well as a musical duet. That is, until Keely slowly begins to emerge as a bigger and brighter star than her husband.



Vanessa Claire Stewart, Anthony Crivello, Paul Perroni - Photo by Hershey Felder Presents


Louie Prima is brilliantly played by multi-talented Anthony Crivello, a man who knows his jazz - and can he sing, play a horn, and act! His energy level isn’t quite where Jake Broder’s was in earlier shows - but it is doubtful that anyone could exceed Broder’s nearly constant motion and non-stop action. The current interpretation delves more deeply into the man, and Anthony Crivello is expert in broadcasting his feelings with his mobile face and body. He also has a stage presence which is reminiscent of Louie himself. By comparison, Vanessa Claire Stewart’s Keely Smith seems somehow more bland and sedate. As a couple, they appear to lack some of the chemistry and sizzle of the originals.  



Anthony Crivello and Vanessa Claire Stewart - Photo by Hershey Felder Presents


But the unsung stars in this production may be the band members, constantly onstage with each member sounding as if he played since he was a toddler. They certainly know how to coax beautiful music out of their instruments. Besides, having real musicians on the stage brings a vitality and excitement to the pieces which recordings can never match. Congratulations, Paul Litteral (trumpet), Jeremy Kahn (piano), Nick Klingenberg (bass), Collin Kupka (tenor sax), George McMullen (trombone), Dan Sawyer (guitar, sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo), and Michael Solomon (drums). You did a great job. It’s always a special treat to hear some of the “oldies but goodies.”


Paul Peroni, Vanessa Claire Stewart, Erin Matthews, Band - Photo by Hershey Felder Presents



Kudos to scenic designers Hershey Felder and Trevor Hay, who manage to make the stage seem far bigger and more impressive. Lighting (Christopher Ash), sound (Erik Carstensen), and costumes (Melissa Bruning) also deserve congratulations. Everyone in this production seemed to know where he was going and what he wanted out of each scene.



Band - Photo by Hershey Felder Presents


LOUIS AND KEELY LIVE AT THE SAHARA runs until January 17, 2016, at the Gil Cates Theater in the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from $43 to $129. For reservations, call 310-208-5454 or go online at www.geffenplayhouse.com.


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