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Time Out New York Magazine

December 28, 2000

Director Mark Waldrop scored an Off Broadway hit with the 1996 revue When Pigs Fly, and it looks as if he's done it again - except this time the show might as well be called When Hams Fly. The hams in question are the title characters, Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens, a divorced couple who are bickering singers in the Steve Lawrence/Eydie Gorme mold. The skeletal premise is that, as the two stars tape a live television special in 1968, they exchange barbs about Keely's boozing and Pete's womanizing, and reminisce about their career highlights - which include a musical adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra titled Tony 'n' Cleo as well as Keely-a-Go-Go, a last-gasp attempt at hip cred.

James Hindman's book is perfunctory at best (a few groaners make you think fondly of Henny Youngman), but fortunately, these interludes are extremely short as Pete 'n' Keely is wall-to-wall songs. Running roughshod over a slew of standards such as "What Now My Love" and "Besame Mucho," as well as originals (mostly penned by Waldrop and musical director Patrick S. Brady), Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens are old-school entertainers who firmly believe that every line can be overemoted and that everything can - and should - be glitzed out. They may vaguely realize they're dinosaurs, but show business is in their blood and they just can't stop.

Sally Mayes (who was a wonderful Ilona in the revivial of She Loves Me! a few years back) is a crafty comedian and an even craftier interpreter; but fine as she is, George Dvorsky comes out of nowhere (also known as The Scarlet Pimpernel) to nearly eclipse her. Halfway between Sonny Bono and Robert Goulet, his Pete confidently straddles the thin line between affectionate tribute and kitschy parody. Nowhere is Dvorsky's skill more obvious than in a rendition of "Fever" that displays both deadly comic timing (check out the way he arches his eyebrows and twitches his mustache) and serious singing chops.

Last but not least, Bob Mackie and his series of eye-popping costumes deserve to be on the marquee alongside the two stars. When you notice that the lining of Pete's crushed-velvet jacket matches Keely's aquamarine gown, you'll laugh as much as when the two singers turn the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" into a swinging, finger-snapping tour de force.


- Elisabeth Vincentelli
 
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