Monday, July 12, 2004

Pete 'n' Keely (Kalliope Stage)

‘PETE 'N' KEELY’ closes Kallliope's season

When an artistic director of a theatre picks a play to be presented there is a reason. Sometimes it fits the theatre’s avowed purpose. Think Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival choosing to do ‘HAMLET’. Often it’s because the script has something important to say such as ‘DEATH OF A SALESMAN’ and ‘DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS. Maybe it’s because the show’s writer insures great audience attendance. Neil Simon or Steven Sondheim come to mind. It could be that the theatre has the personnel who fit the script or a special star is available. Think Bernadette Peters as the lead in ‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’ or Bette Midler as Mamma Rose in ‘GYPSY.’ On occasion, the play fits the theatre’s space well. Whatever the reason, there usually is a rationale behind the selection.

Paul Gurgol, the Artistic Director of Kalliope Stage, Cleveland’s only venue completely dedicated to doing musicals, chose ‘PETE ‘N’ KEELY’ to close the theatre’s first season. Yes, it does fit two criteria, it is a musical and the two person cast fit well the intimate confines of the 50-seat Cleveland Heights theatre. Besides that, it’s difficult to figure out why Gurgol made the choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the production isn’t terrible. It just begs the question, “Why spend time, effort, talent and money on such an endeavor?”

Okay, let’s examine the story. The plot centers on a reunion between a former husband and wife as stars of a “bring ‘em back together” TV show. (Kind of the Sonny and Cher reunion.) The music is a hodge-podge of mostly pop songs from the ‘60s with a few weakly conceived new works thrown in. Musical numbers include “Lover,” “Besame Mucho,” “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” and “Too Fat to Fit.”

The script is by James Hindman with original music by Patrick Brady and lyrics by Mark Waldrop. Hindman, who is a fairly well-know New York actor is making his virgin attempt at writing a play. It includes many lame lines including the likes of “age is a number and mine is unlisted.” The writing tries too hard to be witty and suave but fails to grab and hold the audience’s attention. (Ask the woman in the front row who slept through both the first and the second act.)

The Kalliope production is blessed with Kathryn Kendall who has a strong voice and good stage presence. Christopher Vettel also has a nice singing voice, but has some upper range flatness and a distracting habit of singing out of the side of his mouth, which contorts his face and creates a humorous look during some serious songs. Unfortunately, as well as they sing, there appears to be no on stage charisma between the performers and their vocal blends are not always aesthically pleasing.

Gurgol, who directs the production, has incorporated some clever visual and choreographic moments. “The Cross Country Tour” is a wonderful musical collage, “That’s All” is presented in a nice “scat” style and “”Have You Got A Lot To Learn” was very creatively staged.

The musical accompaniment is excellent, keeping in mind that the musicians are back-ups to the singers and their purpose is not to drown out the lyrics of the songs.

Capsule Judgement: If you like review type shows in an intimate setting, want to support a new local theatre, and enjoy songs of the 50s, ‘PETE ‘N’ KEELY’ might be to your liking.