Friday, January 2, 2009

Wisey Best Music: Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara

The nominees for best music for 2008 were:

Jersey Boys at 5th Avenue Theatre. Ron Melrose, musical direction.
A Marvelous Party at ACT Theatre. Richard Grey, musical director.
Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara at Matrix Theatre. Musical direction by Dennis Kaye.
Black Nativity at Intiman Theatre. Musical direction and arrangements by Pastor Patrinell Wright.

The Wisey goes to Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara. This was the consensus pick for the "Best Music" Weisenheimer Award for several reasons, first and foremost of which is that I had "I Got You Under My Skin" rattling around in my head for weeks afterward, and not in a horrible, it's-a-small-world sort of way.

There are other good reasons, too. Vanessa Claire Smith, Jake Broder, and the faux Sam Butera and the Witnesses are a kick-ass band. Broder and Smith absolutely nail the personas and stage antics of Louis Prima and Keely Smith, whom some credit with virtually inventing the concept of the Vegas lounge act. The musicians are talented and good actors to boot, remaining in character in both their on-stage and off-stage scenes on stage. Fans of Porter, Ellington, Mercer, Gershwin, Arlen, Fields, McHugh, Waller, and a host of others had plenty to enjoy in a show that featured nearly two dozen great numbers.

Colin Kupka was especially marvelous as Butera and on tenor sax, and Dennis Kaye was the musical director for the show and played both tenor and baritone sax as "Doc." The rest of the band -- Brian Wallis (Jimmy/trombone), Jeff Markgraf (Eddie/bass), Richard Levinson (Pee Wee/piano), Michael L. Solomon (Rocco/drums), and "Hollywood" Paul Litteral (Soup/trumpet) were fantastic as well.

The musical and acting abilities of the ensemble and the intimacy of the theater made disbelief was easy to suspend. Weisenheimer didn't really see this show at L.A.'s Matrix Theatre; I think we were actually somehow teleported to the Sahara in Vegas the see Louis and Keely in their definitive lounge act.

Nominee Jersey Boys was in the large 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, and the venue worked against them. While the music of Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons was admirably done, it didn't have quite the same impact. Intiman's Black Nativity always entertains, though this year they pulled back a bit on the full-out, floor-stompin' gospel. A Marvelous Party at ACT was a sleeper pick, with a full show of Noel Coward's best material.

But Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara out-did them all and is the winner of the 2008 Wisey for best music.

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