Reviewed by Leonard Jacobs
Produced by Steve Asher, David W. Unger, and Avalon Entertainment at the John Houseman Theater, 155 First Ave., NYC. Opened Dec. 14 for an open run.
A mixture of camp laced with zing, "Pete 'n' Keely" is a treasure. Like any parody of late '60s to early '70s variety shows, the look is intentionally cheap and cheesy (kudos to designer Ray Klausen), but it's the story of this fictional musical duo who can't live with or without each other that gives the show meaning. Beyond homages to bouffants and bell-bottoms, "Pete 'n' Keely" entertains because its real-life stars—Sally Mayes and George Dvorsky—transport us to 1968, delivering comedy and music with satire and aplomb.
Written by James Hindman and directed by Mark Waldrop, "Pete 'n' Keely" 's TV studio setting finds America's onetime sweethearts, now divorced, reuniting for a live, farewell musical special. A flurry of musical numbers shows us what made Pete and Keely so Pete and Keely. From a stylized "Battle Hymn of the Republic" to a "travel song" medley, Mayes and Dvorsky inhabit personas not unlike a low-rent Steve and Eydie or second-tier Sonny and Cher.
Bitterness and anger, however, lurk beneath their toothy smiles. Even with Swell Shampoo, the show's sponsor, threatening to yank the show for bad behavior, Pete and Keely can't stop the bickering and pointed digs. Their love bond is the now-tarnished motor behind their talent—and the show.
In addition to writing special material (with musical director Patrick Brady), Waldrop's staging has a Vegas-like whiz-bang feeling, and it flatters equally Mayes and Dvorsky's physical and vocal talents. They look terrific, sound great, and soup-up the parody with a wild balance of seriousness and tomfoolery. Mayes glows in Bob Mackie's subtly funny costumes, and F. Mitchell Dana's lighting showcases good-looking Dvorsky well in the best number, "Fever." What "Pete 'n' Keely" needs, however, are higher stakes: We must believe that Swell Shampoo will burst Pete and Keely's comeback bubble if they can't stop getting into a lather.