Pete’n’Keely at Café Luke Dinner Theatre through August 29
This weekend will be your last opportunity to savor Ginger Luke’s delectable cuisine at Café Luke Dinner Theatre (153 Robert St., Slidell) as she and husband Rickie Luke have made the decision, for a variety of reasons, to close after many years of producing food and theater in a number of North Shore locations. I will miss them.
Upon entering the theater in Old Slidell, you’ll be greeted by the 1904 building’s old world charm complete with impressive crystal chandeliers. You’d be forgiven if you expected the evening’s program to be a Viennese operetta rather than Pete’n’Keely, a small-scale musical that charts the rise and fall of a singing couple, distant cousins to Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé.
Before the show starts, you’ll be treated to an outrageously fine dinner that begins with a salad which comes with all the fixings. An appetizer, a delicious chicken étouffée with plenty of tender bits of white meat, follows though it could just as easily have been an entree.
Guests then go into a side room for a served buffet. String beans, seasoned corn, mashed potatoes and gravy–all yummy–lead up to the pièce de résistance, Ginger’s renowned brisket, cooked to a sublime perfection, and it’s equally fine partner, melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork. Only the spaghetti and meatballs, redolent of school cafeteria meals, were unnecessary and seemed out of place with all the other goodies on the menu.
As for Pete’n’Keely, James Hindman’s book frames it as a live 1968 TV reunion special of the once popular duo. We learn how they met (in an Italian restaurant where Milton Berle was a patron), of their 13 albums, their Carnegie Hall appearance, and what drove them apart. There’s darkness here, but it’s never taken too seriously, reminiscent of a Carol Burnett sketch.
The show is stuffed with music, both original tunes by Patrick Brady (music) and Mark Waldrop (lyrics) and such classics as Fever and Besame Mucho; Black Coffee is a vocal highlight. The script is also overstuffed with references to such icons of the 1950s and ‘60s as Steve Allen, Walter Winchell, Jack Paar and Bonanza; if you go with 20- or 30-somethings, you may have to provide footnotes.
Among the funniest bits are a wonderfully cheesy, over-the-top patriotic medley, and snatches of Pete’n’Keely’s Broadway flop, Tony and Cleo (as in Antony and Cleopatra), a parody of the kind of musical which aspires to be the next Hello, Dolly! or My Fair Lady but fails miserably despite lotsa bucks spent on sets and costumes. It’s a hysterical, spot-on send-up as though Charles Busch had done a tongue-in-cheek mega-musical complete with terrible puns.
Evincing just the right 1950/60s style, Lori Molinary nicely captures both Keely’s bubbly personality and her bitchiness as well as her prodigious talent; with her great sense of comedy and vocal chops, Molinary makes you believe that Keely certainly could’ve been a headliner.
Just off to the side of the stage, pianist Carol Cline, bassist Jon Mannino and William Crawford on drums are all topnotch and provide the beat that keeps the show going.
Rickie Luke has a fine tenor voice that he keenly displayed when scat singing, but, otherwise, he simply hadn’t memorized most of Pete’s lines by opening night. Worse, even using cue cards, he was sometimes barely audible. (I wish an announcement and possibly an explanation had been made beforehand.) It’s a shame as he clearly has the potential to do the role justice. Hopefully, by this final weekend, he will have mastered his words; in a subsequent email, he did write that it “will be a different show.”
At least the desserts, served during intermission, went a long way to make up for that. Praline Bread Pudding, Lemon Icebox Pie, Chocolate Cake with homemade fudge topping, and Tiramisu Waffle were all scrumptious, but the waffle, a specialty of Café Luke, especially stood out even if it was less tiramisu-y and more of a velvety smooth mousse.
Aside from the entertainment it offers, what makes Pete’n’Keely so enjoyable now is that, after so many months of Zoom meetings and streamed productions, it’s LIVE albeit with socially distanced tables and other precautions in place. In fact, at one point when Molinary as Keely made an entrance from the back of the room, it took me a second to comprehend why she was wearing a clear plastic face shield. Duh. (She removed it once she got fully back on the stage.)
While the Café Luke Dinner Theatre will cease to exist after Pete’n’Keely finishes its run, the Lukes will soon be reopening the building for their Big Band Dinner Dances and as an event space named “Circa 1904”, a nod to when it was erected. I wish them the best.
Stephanie J. Block/The Seth Concert Series through September 13
Stephanie J. Block, last year’s Tony Award winner for Best Actress in a Musical for The Cher Show, hadn’t anticipated telling The Seth Concert Series’ international audience about the time she got arrested for trying to get on an airplane with a Taser, a federal offense even in pre-9/11 times.
With the series’ matchless host Seth Rudetsky encouraging her, however, Block revealed how she was put in a jail cell at LaGuardia Airport; how her one telephone call proved useless (it was Rosh Hashanah and her friends were at synagogue); and why she was eventually let go (she had a legitimate reason for the weapon as she was being stalked at the time which Los Angeles police confirmed). “I learned a lot of life lessons that night,” she observed.
Although Block was clearly a little rattled by this detour, it was possibly the best moment of the series so far for its bracing spontaneity. Which is why live shows, whether in a theater or streaming like this, are absolutely irreplaceable and a joy to behold in these too often canned times.
Pro that she is, Block got right back on track with a lovely rendition of Children Will Listen from Into the Woods.
There was another, not so salubrious moment when we were reminded that this was indeed live when Block’s sound went out right in the middle of an utterly engaging story of how she met her husband when they were doing Wicked and how, later, he gallantly wooed her. If she wound up going a little too far back in the narrative to restart the tale, chalk that up too to the joys of being live (as opposed to Being Alive, the Sondheim tune that Block kicked off the show with).
If this segment of The Seth Concert Series boasted the usual full quotient of biographical tidbits (Block started singing at a young age at her church; with her voice always pitched to forte, the congregation called her “Little Ethel Merman” even though she didn’t know whom that was at the time) and fabulous numbers (including a rousing Don’t Rain on My Parade and a delightful Part of Your World, Block’s time of playing the Little Mermaid at Disneyland allowing for a fully formed character to shine through), it also offered a veritable seminar on such aspects as vocal techniques; how one should approach theatrical work from the physical standpoint of doing strenuous performances eight times a week; and the vicissitudes of the business aspect of “show business”.
On that last topic, Block told how it took over a year to get the role of Trina in the revival of Falsettos for which she ultimately snagged a Tony nomination (her version of the comic I’m Breaking Down aptly proving why) and explained that, having done the workshops of Wicked as Elphaba, she was frustrated at not getting the role on Broadway but understood the producers’ choice of Idina Menzel as she had had more Broadway experience at that time.
Block eventually got the role in the first national tour, performing Elphaba for the last time on Broadway in 2008. Singing The Wizard and I, she went all out on some of the high notes in a way, she said, she might not have done if she was doing it in a regular run of the show.
She followed Wizard immediately with The Way Of Love, transforming into Cher instantaneously, and then telling how she still gets emails and texts from the Diva, usually in the middle of the night. Ironically, at first she didn’t realize these emails came from Cher as she uses a product name to disguise herself; Block used “Palmolive” as an example. When Rudetsky tried to get her to identify the actual product, their playful if occasionally combative relationship was on full display. (Note: they’ve been friends and colleagues for years and years.)
Along the way, like many of the other phenomenally talented performers who have previously appeared in this series have said, Block commented that “it feels so good to be singing live again.” I’d just add how fantastic it is that each week the joyous Seth Concert Series allows us viewers to tune out this crazy world for 90 minutes…or more.
Coming up next are Sierra Boggess (Aug. 30), Karen Olivo, currently starring in Moulin Rouge on Broadway (Sept. 6), and Jeremy Jordan (Sept. 13) about whom when he appeared at NOCCA last year, I wrote that he “delivered an endearingly marvelous show” and “proved to be both cheeky and completely down-to-earth. And very cute.” Enjoy!
To purchase tickets to these upcoming shows, go to thesethconcertseries.com
NOLA’s Theater Scene
30 by Ninety, the intrepid theater company in Mandeville (880 Lafayette St.), presents Reginald Rose’s classic courtroom drama 12 Angry Men from August 29 through September 13. As you may recall from previous productions or Sidney Lumet’s memorable film adaptation starring Henry Fonda, the case the dozen men must decide looks like it’s open-and-shut until one of the jurors begins opening the others’ eyes to the facts.
No less a person than Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that seeing the movie version of 12 Angry Men while she was in college influenced her decision to pursue a career in law. Even though the script, first produced as a TV drama, is over 65 years old, its principles of decency, justice and the power one person has to elicit change are not only timeless, but especially relevant these days.
Andrea Elu directs a cast including Matthew Eli Judd, Luke Barwick, Jason Leader, Barrett Baumgartner, Miles Hamauei, DeJuan James, Raleigh L. Ohlmeyer III, Gordon Carmadelle, Joe Lagman, Tom Hassinger, Sam Pickens and Sam Lee. The theater has implemented all the necessary COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety of cast, crew and audience members.
Wayne Daigrepont returns to Andrea’s Restaurant (3100 19th St., Metairie) on August 28. After seeing him in June, I wrote “with impish humor, “Uncle” Wayne, as he’s known around town, holds court in Andrea’s’ Capri Blu Piano Bar on occasional Fridays. A diminutive man with an outsize personality, “Uncle” Wayne may always be quick with a joke and a laugh but there’s nothing goofy about his piano stylings.
“Notes tumble forth when this adorable pixie sits down to make music. His marvelous playing may be reminiscent of Liberace but, rather than feathers and sequins, he sports a Tweety Bird vest and straw boater. And always a smile.”
Alas, a number of shows have been postponed or cancelled. In the first category are Rivertown’s Cinderella and the return engagement of Peter and the Starcatcher, andThe Company: A St. Bernard Community Theatre’s production of a new play, Flowing Robes. Anastasia at the Saenger Theater has been rescheduled for June 1-6, 2021, while the fate of the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company’s For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls is a little more unclear.
I look forward to seeing all of these when they’re finally able to open.
Unfortunately, the curtains on Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations at the Saenger, JPAS’ Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. and Newsies, Jr., and the Radical Buffoon(s)/Delgado Community College production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead won’t be rising. Let’s hope that we’ll eventually get to see the talents of all the people who had been involved with them in future productions.