Louis Prima, the late Court Jester of Jazz who penned the classic “Sing, Sing, Sing,” must have had a hand in the timing that led to his current revitalization. By December 2006, Vanessa Claire Smith was ready to quit Los Angeles. Packed in her bags was a script she’d been writing about the trumpet-playing showman but what she didn’t have was a physical embodiment of Prima, whose legendary onstage antics made him a dominating presence on the Las Vegas strip throughout the 50’s.
“I was working one last shift at my bartending job when I saw Jake Broder doing his one-man show. At that moment, I knew I had my Louis.” Smith took on the role of Keely Smith, the honey-voiced singer with the deadpan look who joined Prima’s band as a 16-year-old girl (eventually becoming his wife), providing the chemistry that made them both stars.
Broder and Vanessa Smith’s collaboration produced “Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara,” which began its life at the Sacred Fools Theatre in 2008. After a successful run, followed by another at the Matrix, the show is now packing in audiences at the prestigious Geffen Theatre. Oscar-winner Taylor Hackford directs the current version, which received the blessings and input of Keely Smith herself.
Detailing Prima and Smith’s tumultuous love affair from start to finish, “Louis & Keely” packs an emotional punch along with a rollicking musical score, provided by a live, 6-piece band backing the two performers. “This has been a dream experience” says Vanessa Smith. “It’s exceeded our expectations, and that’s putting it lightly.”
“Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara” performs Tuesdays through Sundays at the Geffen Playhouse (10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood Village, CA 90024). Tickets are $55-$65; $15 student rush tickets are available 1 hour before curtain. Tickets are available via credit card order at (310) 208-5454, at all Ticketmaster outlets or by calling Ticketmaster at (213) 480-3232, and online at www.geffenplayhouse.com.