The two performers, Pete and Keely, are a showbiz duo from the ’50s and ’60s. Now divorced for three years, they have reunited for a televised reunion show in 1968. What are they like? Start with the Las Vegas sensibilities of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, add the barbs of Sonny and Cher, and finish off with a Triangle Players specialty — portraying showbiz folks who are maniacal in their pursuit of fame.
Nancy McMahon plays Keely without the slightest hint of irony. McMahon must have stayed up late during the Jerry Lewis telethons over the years. She has an easy familiarity with the musical and physical gestures of the Las Vegas show crowd.
Unlike Keely, Pete, played by Steve Boschen, catches occasional glimpses of their dubious places in the showbiz hierarchy. But this is the career he has chosen, and he works it so hard we literally see the sweat pouring down the sides of his face.
In addition to the hardworking cast, director John Knapp is responsible for a lot of the show’s charm. The staging of Pete and Keely’s cheesy rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is one of the clever ways he avoids repetition. For a dash of epic drama, a stagehand (Alicia Ayoub) points a fan directly into Pete and Keely’s faces.
Though this is camp, Knapp wisely never allows the performers to leave character for a self-referential laugh. This is yet another example of a basic axiom of comedy: The funniest characters don’t realize they’re being funny. Or in this case, the characters believe they’re funny in an entirely different way.
Knapp also designed the set. Other than “Applause” and “On Air” signs, there are few cues to indicate that it’s a television soundstage. But that’s enough. We’re really here for the music and the costumes.
And make no mistake about it. This is a costume designer’s show. The original show in New York featured costumes by Bob Mackie, the designer for “The Carol Burnette Show.” Using incongruent colors and a promiscuous number of sequins, D. Mark Souza does a nice job of creating clothes with a Mackie-like feel.
It’s not a perfect show. You can figure out the entire plot in the first 15 seconds. And James Hindman’s script suffers from its basic premise: A retrospective reunion is going to deal with past events rather than the present. Three quarters of the play have elapsed before the characters begin to take significant actions in real time.
In the second act, Pete mugs to a woman in the studio audience. And who do they find in the audience to be the hapless victim? That’s right … the one wearing the mango shoes. The cast didn’t know the risks they were taking. A person who would wear mango shoes might bolt onto stage and try to sing along. As it was, she sang “Besame Mucho” on the way home. But that’s the infectious quality of “Pete ’n’ Keely.” It’s a mango kind of show. S
Continues through Oct. 11 at Fielden’s Cabaret Theatre, 2033 W. Broad St. Tickets cost $12-$14 and are available at 346-8113.
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