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THEATER REVIEW: “Pete 'n' Keely” at Lamb's Players Theatre

If chanteuse Peggy Lee is looking down from that big cabaret in the sky, I bet she’s getting a giggle at the thought that her competition these days is – wait for it – Phil Johnson.

The funnyman/actor/singer does a terrific job on the Lee standard “Fever” in “Pete ’n’ Keely,” playing through March 3 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.

We’re in an NBC studio in 1968, where former singing duo Pete (Johnson) and ex-wife Keely (Eileen Bowman) are on air live for a “reunion concert.” Their divorce a few years ago not only broke up the act, but effectively ended both careers; this is an attempt to get back on track. And we are assured by stage manager Marty (Patrick Duffy) that, despite what we may have read in the tabloids, Pete and Keely “are getting along just fine.”

Not so much, actually, and part of the fun is in the on-air sniping while the show is in progress.

Kerry Meads directs the familiar story tracing the careers of this volatile duo.

Let’s stipulate that this is a thin and shopworn idea, but Johnson and Bowman are such consummate performers that it doesn’t matter. Both can act, dance and put across a song, and they are helped immensely by a terrific four-man combo (led by pianist Brent Schindele) and fine arrangements by Patrick Brady.

It’s a varied musical program, with standards like “Lover” and “This Could Be The Start Of Something Big” giving way to a hoot of a musical tour of the U.S., reflecting the 63 cities in 14 weeks the pair hit on tour all those years ago. And let me not forget a scene from the pair’s lone foray onto the Broadway stage – “Tony and Cleo,” a musical version of Shakespeare, complete with shiny costumes and headpieces.

Jeanne Barnes Reith’s costumes, by the way, are spot-on and fun, especially Keely’s first gig as a kid singing “Daddy.”

Kudos to the band (Tom Versen, Harley Magsino and Leonard Sundelson, in addition to Schindele) that really swings those terrific arrangements, and to dancers Meryl (Courtney Fero) and Carol (Kyrsten Hafso), who add pizzazz with Colleen Kollar Smith’s peppy choreography.

There are plays that make you think and shows that let you relax and have a few laughs. “Pete ‘n’ Keely” is in the latter category, and does it very well indeed.

The details

“Pete ‘n’ Keely” plays through March 3 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:30 pm; 8 pm Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm; plus Feb. 6 at 2:30 pm.

Tickets: (619) 437-6000 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.