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Louis Prima and Keely Smith
By Vanessa Claire Stewart, Taylor Hackford & Jake Broder
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Music standards as performed by Louis Prima & Keely Smith
At the Royal George Theatre, Chicago
Fun, tuneful and toe-tapping storytelling with loads of terrific music with fantastic performances awaits at the Royal George Theatre
Hershey Felder, as producer, brings his usual expert high-end production values to a fun filled and totally entertaining American love story about two legendary performers who helped put late night Las Vegas musical acts on the map. Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at The Sahara, written by Vanessa Claire Stewart, Taylor Hackford & Jake Broder and directed by Taylor Hackford is a bio-musical about entertainer singer/songwriter Luois Prima who went from being a New Orleans jazz trumpeter to a NYC supper club act to a big band swing conductor in the 40’s until that era died out. Ever one to reinvent himself, Prima found a teenage singer, Keely Smith, who he trained to be part of a two person singing act. They established an all night Vagas at the Sahara casino that became an institution making Prima and Smith super stars.
After a 7 month run in LA, Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at The Sahara staring in Chicago Anthony Crivello as Louis Prima and Vanessa Stewart as Keely Smith with a traffic 7 member orchestra opened at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago. This 80 minute show is so energetic, so well performed that it plays out as a fun night. I saw Louis & Keely at the Sahara in the 60’s and I must say that Crivello is channeling Prima and Stewart is mirroring Smith. Both have the Prima-Smith night club act down. Prima’s manic wooing of Smith through song plays nicely with Smith’s deadpan indifference that audience’s love. We see and hear the Prima-Smith songbook with jazz infused with some rock and swing influences that play out as toe-tapping musical treats. Of course, Prima sings Italian tunes that excite the audiences.
The show features the duo’s greatest hits including “That Ol’ Black Magic,” “Hey Boy, Hey Girl,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “Night Train,” “Ai, Ai, Ai,” ‘I Can’t Believe You’re In Love With Me.” But it’s the playful style and banter between Prima and Smith that fuels this most entertaining show. Director Taylor Hackford nicely weaves the love story between Louis and Keely honestly between the wonderful tunes. The band is a first-class group of veteran players adept at night club style arrangements.
We understand the My Fair Lady styled relationship between Prima and Smith that grows into a lifelong relationship including marriage (with two children) that honestly deals with infidelities both did yet the ‘act’ kept its glamor. There is even a Frank Sinatra cameo (by Paul Perroni) since Prima/Smith were friends (and more) with the Rat Pack.
But, what makes this fast-paced high energy show work is the charismatic performance by Anthony Crivello. He has all the big smiles, the hyper mannerisms and the winning charm that Louis Prima possessed. He speaks/sings in that New Orleans-jazz accent; he moves and glides on the floor and plays off Vanessa Claire Stewarts’s terrific work as Keely Smith. Crivello’s acting equals his acumen as a night club performer. Crivello gives one of the strongest and truthful performances seen on a Chicago stage in many a moon!
Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at The Sahara takes us back to the glory days when Las Vegas night club acts dominated. A trip to the Royal George to see this fun show is better than most of the present acts playing in Vegas these days. I recommend the 20/30somethings see this show since they are not familiar with the major talents of Louis Prima and Keely Smith.
For a nostalgic trip to an era that featured high energy night club talents be sure to book seats for Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at The Sahara at the Royal George. My 20something guest loved the show and he had no exposure to that 50/60’s style music and no knowledge of Louis & Keely but he was amazed and appreciated their craft as entertainers. Don’t miss this wonderful show.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: April 7, 2015
For more info checkout the Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at The Sahara page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Royal George Theatre, 161 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call312-988-9000