One only has to appreciate the immense talent of Louis Prima and Keely Smith by listening to their music. Although their popularity peaked some time ago, it is still vibrant and alive inside our collective unconscious, which is the greatest compliment of all: immortalized and enjoyed by fans born long after the music was spawn.
The production is a story set to music; moreover, it is music that drives the story. Louis (an infectious Jake Broder) recalls his life from the confines of a coma— he is resurrected by the primal backbeat of swing, the pure essence of Americana. He shares with the audience his most intimate wants and desires, intertwining the people in his life, most importantly his great love, Keely (an absolute charming Vanessa Claire Smith, who, along with Jake Broder, wrote the script). Yes, the band plays his hits. And yes, they are polished musicians, with chops to spare.
Director Taylor Hackford realizes the nuances and vibrancy of the story by allowing the talent to embrace the particularities of their roles. The performances were grounded, yet exuberant. The band performed like a Ferrari— cool, hot and sleek, accented by a thunderous rhythm section by Eddie (Nate Light) on bass and Rocco (Michael L. Solomon).
Louis Prima believed and lived the American dream. Not only for himself but for everyone, especially Keely, whom I believe was his muse. However, his greatest inspiration was the audience, of which this story is shared. There is no tragedy of the man but the celebration of an artist who merely wanted to share his gift. The show is 18 Karat, dig?
Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara plays at the Geffen Playhouse (10866 Le Conte Ave., Westwood Village, CA 90024). For more information, call (310) 208-5454.