Pete ’n’ Keely continues at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London until 20 May.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
This bland little show is very simple and in places good fun. Keely Stevens (Katie Kerr) and Pete Bartel (David Bardsley) were a fabulously successful married double act in the early 1960s – until they divorced and it all fell apart.
Now, reunited for one more big TV concert five years on, we see their relationship for what it really is; both through the songs – a mixture of contemporary and new – and through their increasingly embittered asides [book by James Hindman, original music by Patrick Brady, original lyrics by Mark Waldrop and Patrick S Brady].
The music, led by the immensely talented James Cleve on keys (with Richard Burden on drums and Doug Grannell on bass) is what really drives this show.
Numbers range across ballads, jazz, patter, and a hilarious flag-waving take (written by Julia Ward Howe) on ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’.
The most memorable moment comes at the end of Act I in a song in which Pete and Keely recall a cross country tour and we’re treated to a Tom Lehrer-style song which mentions every US state at top speed.
Kerr and Bardsley are accomplished, versatile singer/actors. There’s a very strong sense, especially from the larger-than-life Kerr, that each is still furious with her/his ex. Her facial expressions are well judged and she sings beautifully, whether solo or in musical – if not actual – harmony with Bardsley.
She cultivates the glittering diva image nicely too, even as we gradually learn the truth about her character’s recent work or lack of it.
Bardsley’s performance is slower to take, off although by the second half he is singing warmly, and we’re pretty convinced that there really is chemistry between the two of them.
The ending, however, is unsatisfyingly implausible. Moreover, although there’s nothing at all to dislike about this pleasant show (directed by Matthew Gould), short as it is, it failed to hold my attention at times, perhaps because there are too many numbers and too little real plot.