After a season of musical retrospectives saluting such composers as Rodgers and Hart, and Kander and Ebb, Quality Hill Playhouse is interrupting its regular programming for the Off-Broadway musical comedy, Pete 'n' Keely.
Containing a mix of original and familiar tunes, it's formatted as a television variety show from 1968, one of the medium's most historic years. At that time, only 24% of American homes had color television, and those select families gathered around their new - and, for the time, mammoth - 23-inch Zenith or Admiral wood-veneered consoles for shows that were reflecting a country at a crossroads: Laugh-In and The Doris Day Show at one end of the dial and, at the other, The Mod Squad and Julia.
A Classy Reunion
If you don't recall 1968's eventful reunion special of performing duo Pete 'n' Keely, that's because it didn't really happen. But it's about to for a month-long run at Quality Hill Playhouse, which is staging the fictitious program as if Pete 'n' Keely really existed. The Playhouse's executive director Kent Barnhart compares and contrasts the pair with who might have been their competition.
"In the late Sixties you had no one doing the Pete and Keely kind of variety show anymore," Barnhart recalls. "It was "I Got You Babe" of Sonny and Cher but they weren't singing standards anymore. Or you had them on The Carol Burnett Show making fun of them. So Pete and Keely are about five years too late. I don't think necessarily they're over their prime but the style is just a little bit too late."
Divorced in Name Only
Quality Hill regulars Tim Scott and Molly Hammer, who play the show's title characters, explain that Pete 'n' Keely had a big career as a team, a'la, say, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, but, post-divorce court, were less stellar as soloists.
"Pete 'n' Keely were married for awhile, made it big, split up, and tried solo careers but found the magic wasn't there unless they were together," Scott says. "So our show is a reunion special on television - their first time back together in several years, so they kind of hit all their musical highlights."
Molly Hammer admits that Keely is a bit of a mess.
"She's all ego and can't see past it a lot of the times," says Hammer, "which was where a lot of the problems in her and Pete's relationship came into play. But she's a dynamic performer, still a great singer. But slightly past her prime? Maybe."
Adds Tim Scott, "What's great about this show is, with the success of Mad Men and those genre period pieces, the era is kind of trendy. And I don't want to use the word relevant, but kind of hip again."
Everything Old Is New Again
Though the current season of Mad Men is unfolding in 1966, the two shows' retro appeal nicely overlap - the olives in each other's martinis. That swanky supper club era of the Sixties is hot again, and trending younger than you'd think. Kent Barnhart cites as an example Marilyn Maye's recent show at Michael Feinstein's supper club in New York.
"My desire with these kinds of shows is make this kind of music from this show - but everything we do, whether it's Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hart, Noel Coward, all of that - as cool and hip as it is in New York right now," he says. "When I saw Marilyn Maye at Feinstein's, I was the oldest person there. I'm serious. It was all young hip kids wanting to be in on this new thing.
While Pete 'n' Keely's careers may have cooled after their reunion special, Marilyn Maye continues to sizzle, and returns to Quality Hill Playhouse for 12 shows this fall.
Pete 'n' Keely, June 1-July 1, 2012, Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St., Kansas City, MO, 816-421-1700.