Pete and Keely logo

Once again, I thank my good friend Adam Crowe for standing in for me while I work at Beef and Boards. This should be the last review from him for a while, but I am sure you will agree – he has done a fine job writing his impressions of the busy Indianapolis theatre scene.

Actors Theatre of Indiana (ATI), located in the Studio Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, continues its 10th Anniversary Season with a combination of new and old – bringing their audience something a bit different. Pete ‘N’ Keely centers around a 1968 television “Reunion” of Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens, a previously beloved 1950s and ‘60s singing duo, who’s stardom has, to be polite, dimmed. Meant to re-vitalize their careers, the “Reunion Special” format puts ATI’s audience in the NBC studios, where the live broadcast is about to take place. Before either singer even appears onstage, we are reminded that, though they haven’t spoken in 5 years, Pete ‘n’ Keely aren’t going to let a little divorce get in the way of their big comeback!

Written by James Hindman, with original music by Patrick S. Brady, Pete ‘n’ Keely opened off-Broadway in 2000. And while the show itself may not be well known, the score consists (mostly) of well known songs of the 50’s and 60’s. More importantly, anyone in the baby boomer age range will recognize the conceit immediately. The musical variety show was a Television staple in 1968, and Pete and his ex-wife can easily be substituted for any number of well know singing duos of the era. Steve and Eydie come first to mind, though in fairness, they never divorced.

The idea of the show is rife with possibilities, but the authors’ final product felt a bit thin. Luckily for local audiences, ATI has provided more than enough artistry to make the entire enterprise lift off and fly. That flight starts with the cast, composed of Fitzgerald, an ATI co-founder, is delightful as the brassy (and perhaps a bit boozy) Keely Stevens. A tough showbiz nut, Keely still has feelings for philandering Pete, and Fitzgerald knocks it out of the park with her rendition of the Julie London classic “Black Coffee”.

As Pete Bartel, Michael Ehlers brings an impressive resume to his ATI debut. Ehlers is a terrific foil for Fitzgerald’s Keely, doing his best to stick to the teleprompter, keep the sponsor happy and maybe rekindle a spark with his former wife. Ehlers also gets a terrific musical solo, bringing both vocal and physical finesse to his version of the Peggy Lee classic “Fever”.

Michael Ehlers and Judy Fitzgerald star in "Pete 'n' Keely" at ATI.

Michael Ehlers and Judy Fitzgerald star in “Pete ‘n’ Keely” at ATI.

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Pete ‘n’ Keely also benefits from wonderful musical direction by Brent Marty. Marty and his combo (Greg Wolff and Greg Gegogeine) are onstage as NBC’s live orchestra and add immeasurably to the atmosphere of the production (in addition to playing terrifically!) And mention must be made of the work done by Designers Bernie Killian and Jonathan Parke. Parke’s pre-show and Intermission sound delighted the audience with a smart combination of television theme songs and commercial clips, and when you add Killian’s just-right set design, the “stage” is literally set for some pitch perfect 60’s nostalgia.

An enjoyable production for all ages, I especially recommend Pete ‘n’ Keely to those with fond memories of all those TV variety specials of the 60s and 70s – especially the ones where the stars were a little less than “glittering” and where you suspected that what went on behind the scenes was maybe as interesting as what we saw at home.

Pete ‘n’ Keely continues its run through November 23rd. You can find out more about the schedule and reserve tickets by calling the Box Office at (317) 843-3800, or by going to the website at http://www.actorstheatreofindiana.org.

* – Logo from Actors Theatre of Indiana
* – Photo by Linda Oldiges Photography

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