Decades back, Lee Kalcheim had a hit with Breakfast With Les and Bess, a comedy about a married couple who act all lovey-dovey on their hit morning radio show but, in fact, can't stand each other. Now a new musical, Pete `n' Keely, looks at a different couple and takes the hate one step further.
Conceived and written by James Hindman with arrangements and musical direction by Patrick Brady, Pete `n' Keely tells of "America's Swingin' Sweethearts," who reunite in 1968 for a TV special -- five years after their acrimonious divorce.
Mark Waldrop directed a workshop of the show, Feb. 3-6 at NYC’s Cap 21 Theatre, and now the piece is getting its first full staging, April 25-May 14 at Springfield, MA’s City Stage. For tickets call (413) 788-7033.
Playing the feuding warblers in Pete `n' Keely are Sally Mayes and George Dvorsky. Absent for several years from the New York stage, Mayes has to her credit such shows as the Maltby-Shire Off Broadway hit Closer Than Ever and the Broadway revival, She Loves Me. The latter performance won her a Tony nomination. Dvorsky was in Marilyn and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and served as a standby for Douglas Sills in The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Pete n’ Keely uses hit songs of the 1950s and 60s to tell the stories of the protagonists' careers and relationship. "The songs are mostly old standards," author Hindman told Playbill On Line in February. "Sort of like Forever Plaid. This couple are like Steve and Eyde, and they sing all these old swing tunes. But their emotions start bubbling up through the songs; a lot of things that were never said start coming to the surface in a comic way." Swing-era and Fifties tunes in the musical include "Fever," "But Beautiful," "Young at Heart," "Besame Mucho," "What Now My Love," Steve Allen's "This Could Be The Start of Something Big," "Black Coffee" and "Lover." There's also a "Cross-Country Medley" at the end of the first act, wherein Pete and Keely sing a song named for nearly every state in the union. Original songs, by Waldrop and Patrick Brady, include "Wasn't It Fine" and "Tony `n' Cleo" (an intentionally terrible, musical update of Antony and Cleopatra).
As for the show’s further development, a planned June 6-11 stay in Naples, FL has been cancelled because the theatre is being renovated, but the company is booked into New York’s Queens Theatre in the Park in December, is lining up other bookings for March 2001, and is eyeing Off Broadway for Spring 2001. According to Hindman, Fourfront Marketing and another not-yet-named producer are the current producing team.
After the Springfield staging, the writers will look at the work and do some more revisions, while Dvorsky and Mayes both have separate concert engagements to take them through the summer and fall months.
-- By David Lefkowitz