BWW Review: Sally Mayes and George Dvorsky Reignite the Fire in THE RETURN OF PETE N KEELY at Birdland
The buzz in the air was electric as the last few patrons were seated at the remaining empty places in the club. People were already smiling and remarking how excited they were for what was about to happen. The anticipation was deafening as all watched and waited for the lights to dim and the show to start. Finally, there was a drumroll and the voice came over the loudspeaker, welcoming everyone to THE RETURN OF PETE N KEELY.
The Birdland Theater erupted into one joyful roar as Pete N Keely returned to the stage.
Pete N Keely was "The brightest, happiest, most entertaining show in town!" or so said Rex Reed when the play Pete N Keely opened off Broadway in 2000. Having developed a huge cult following, the original stars of Pete N Keely, George Dvorsky and Sally Mayes, have reunited in a trimmed-down concert version of the show, 19 years later, and the magic is still there. At the start of the show, famed crooning couple Pete N Keely comment on the fact that they are divorced, but for Mayes and Dvorsky there is no such thing as separation. The longtime friends and sometime stage partners are as devoted as ever, even if their onstage persona argue like The Bickersons, to uproarious effect. The chemistry between these two treasures of the musical theater scene helps, as they bring their A-Game to this 70-minute version of the play that wowed the audience at their Birdland opening last night. Both stars are as gorgeous as ever, and are in remarkable voice, performing feats of vocal ability that had audience members shaking their heads and uttering exclamations of "oh my god" and simply "WOW!" throughout the evening's entertainment.
A musical theater actor with a voice as smooth as french silk chocolate icing on a cake made of Plugra butter, Mr. Dvorsky seems perfectly able to hit any note in any octave, and to make it sound prettier and more powerful than anyone who has ever, before, sung it. And while Ms. Mayes has plenty of musical theater under her belt, her expertise in the art of jazz singing is difficult to match, with scat singing abilities that will drop your jaw and pop your eyes. Together the Master and Mistress of Song make a gloriously unique sound that melts the heart by making it race. The genius with which Sally and George make the music on the Birdland stage is a harmonious cacophony of glory sent right down to earth from heaven. Their solo performances of "Black Coffee" and "Fever" alone are worth going out on a school night in winter to catch a show in midtown Manhattan, but the "Cross Country Tour" is an epic piece of theater performed at a breakneck pace that defies description. It is possible you might be winded, just watching them do the number. If the sheer enjoyment of these three musical offerings are not enough to make one blush with pleasure, then the soul shaking splendor of "But Beautiful" makes the journey an embarrassment of riches.
The truth is that there is no best reason to see Pete N Keely, because the cornucopia of breathtaking musicality is unrivaled, while the acting skills of the stars is on a par with the best in the business, with laugh-out-loud comic moments and wipe-tears-away pathos, and every line, every word, every song, every note delivered at the same intensity. Dvorsky and Mayes do not waver in their commitment to their characters, their craft, or their crowd. They board the train at the start of the show (which, one might add, requires a lot of energy from start to finish) and they keep their energy level at a fever-pitch high until the very last note (and it has to be said: this is a LOT of singing). It is an admirable feat for any performer, but as a man who is in the same age bracket as George and Sally, I will confess that I envy their stamina. It would not surprise me if I heard they had been training like an Olympian or a Boxer to do this show. It looks exhausting, but they do not look exhausted. WERQ.
In 2000, when Pete N Keely was first produced, the show had elaborate sets and stunningly spectacular costumes by Bob Mackie. This (expertly) truncated version is proof positive that you don't need sets and costumes. All you need is a good story (and this one does not suffer one bit from the expurgation), great storytellers (hello, goodbye, it's Dvosrky and Mayes), impeccable musicians(Joe Baker on piano, Tex Benincasa on drums and Bob Renino on bass), and gorgeous, glorious, music performed to perfection. Well, check off those boxes because Pete N Keely has all of these qualities and more, leaving a happy room full of strangers last night with one wonderful thing in common: they all love Pete N Keely as much as Rex Reed, who was in the audience last night with the rest of the devotees.
The Return of Pete N Keely is the reunion for which we've all been waiting, and now that it has happened, maybe we can get lucky enough to discover that they are going to stick around for a while.
THAT would be a GREAT holiday gift.
THE RETURN OF PETE N KEELY plays November 17 and 24 at 7 pm. For information and tickets please visit the Birdland Website
Photos by Stephen Mosher