Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara

Also see Sharon's reviews of This Beautiful City and 9 to 5

Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder
If Ray Charles Live! had a book as good as Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, it would be on Broadway right now. Because Louis & Keely does what Ray Charles Live! never really managed to do: combine carefree and electric performance numbers with a portrait of a talented musical artist looking back on his life with a measure of regret.

Here, the artist in question is Louis Prima, and the musical has him looking over his life from a coma (from which he would never recover). Played by Jake Broder, Louis explains to us why he did the things that he did, and then magically places himself back in time and shows us. He switches between the two time frames with something as quick as a snap of the fingers (and an instantaneous lighting change), in order to make a wry comment on the action, and then drops right back into it. And this works because Broder gives an absolutely committed performance. When he's the young Louis performing, he is a Louis who gives his all for the audience, energetically singing, scatting, and improvising with his band. When he's the older Louis at the end of his life, he is still Louis the performer—he's just Louis the performer with a little bit of wisdom.

The story itself isn't particularly unique. It tracks Louis's professional and personal relationship with Keely Smith, his musical partner and fourth wife. And even if you don't know anything about Louis and Keely's years in Vegas, when they ran five shows a night starting at midnight; and even if you don't immediately associate them with many of the standards they performed ("That Old Black Magic," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Just a Gigolo"), their story will have elements of the familiar: Older successful singer hires teenage girl with a big voice to add something youthful to his act; she falls for him and he encourages it because it's good for the show; and his difficulty in perceiving any life outside their show ultimately causes his downfall.

The tale needn't be illustrated in any great detail—with the ghost of Louis available at the snap of a finger to sum up problems with a witty and perceptive line or two ("Keely always had a way of sayin' what was on her mind; I had a way of pretending not to listen"), the plot moves quickly and leaves time for nearly 20 performance numbers. And while Broder enthusiastically sells Louis's solo numbers, he is well matched by Vanessa Claire Smith as Keely. Smith's Keely has the perfect smooth and sultry nightclub voice; she induces chills on "Come Rain or Come Shine." She also has a terrific delivery of Keely's deadpan comic zingers, and together, Broder and Smith successfully recreate some of the magic that must have taken place five times a night at the Sahara lounge.

Actually, that's not entirely correct. The magic is not recreated by Broder and Smith; it's recreated by Broder, Smith and the band. The musicians appear onstage, have lines, and are credited as members of the cast. As well they should be. The performance numbers in Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara often put the music center stage—just watch Broder trade notes with Dennis Kaye (as Doc) on the sax in "Pennies From Heaven," and it is apparent that Louis and Keely would not have been "Louis and Keely" if they had been singing to canned tracks, without the excitement that live music generates.

This show is a perfect fit for the Matrix—a theatre with a great big stage that these performers can fill—but a shallow enough house so that you can feel the intimacy of the lounge act. And it's one of the very few shows where I put down my critic's notebook and just watched. Louis is presented as someone who needs an audience, but Louis & Keely give the audience a hell of a show.

Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara runs through October 26, 2008 at the Matrix Theatre on Melrose. For tickets and information, see

L&K Productions Presents Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara. Written by Vanessa Claire Smith & Jake Broder. Directed by Jeremy Aldridge. Managing Producer JJ Mayes. Stage Manager Suze Campagna; Swing Stage Managers Heatherlynn Gonzalez; Producers Jake Broder, Vanessa Claire Smith & Sarabeth Schedeen; Associate Producers Jeremy Aldridge & Brian Wallis; Musical Director Dennis Kaye; Lighting Design J. Kent Inasy; Based on original Lighting Design concept by Heatherlynn Gonzalez; Set Design Consultant Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; Based on original Set Design concept by Dave Knutson; Original Costume/Makeup Design Kat Bardot; Additional Costume Design Ashley Hasenyager & Garth Dunbar; Sound Design Jaime Robledo; Assistant Stage Managers Terry Tocantins & Joseph Woods; Set Build Crew Dave Knutson, Stephanie Kerley Schwartz & Scott Moore; Light Hang Crew J. Kent Inasy & Danny McCabe; Light Operators Suze Campagna & Joseph Woods; Sound Operator Chariman Barnes; Banner Artwork Kiff Scholl; Matchbook Artwork Corey Klemow; Press Photographer Haven Hartman; Publicity Phil Sokoloff.

Jake Broder - Louis
Vanessa Claire Smith - Keely/Nurse
Colin Kupka - Sam (Tenor Sax)
Brian Wallis - Jimmy (Trombone)/Intern
Jeff Markgraf - Eddie (Bass)/Doctor
Richard Levinson - Pee Wee (Piano)
Dennis Kaye - Doc (Tenor & Baritone Sax)
Michael L. Solomon - Rocco (Drummer)
"Hollywood" Paul Litteral - Soup (Trumpet)
Terry Tocantins - Maitre d'/Nurse

Photo Haven Hartman

- Sharon Perlmutter

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