Review: ‘Keely Smith’

The poker chips on the tables at Feinstein's at the Regency this month are a souvenir token of Vegas' glory days, when the lounge acts romped, rocked and rolled to entice and energize tourists and gamblers to fever pitch. The most successful act of its time was the legendary Louis Prima and his then-wife Keely Smith, who performed with Sam Butera and the Witnesses.

The poker chips on the tables at Feinstein’s at the Regency this month are a souvenir token of Vegas’ glory days, when the lounge acts romped, rocked and rolled to entice and energize tourists and gamblers to fever pitch. The most successful act of its time was the legendary Louis Prima and his then-wife Keely Smith, who performed with Sam Butera and the Witnesses. The still big-selling Prima-Smith sessions recorded then remain a vital and telling souvenir of the period.

Keely Smith is back at Feinstein’s. Her previous stands paid tribute to the big band glory of Count Basie and offered a nostalgic toast to Frank Sinatra. This spring it’s “Vegas ’58,” a wailin’ recall of Prima and the infectious rhythmic sound they generated.

From “Jump, Jive and Wail” and “Angelina” to “Just a Gigolo” and “Up a Lazy River,” Smith re-creates the infectiously punchy tempo that defined the action at the Sahara Lounge.

Now 76, Smith retains a strong, warm and mellow voice. When she slows the pace for the ballads, there’s nothing quite so caressing as “Sweet and Lovely,” Vincent Youmans’ “More Than You Know” and “Don’t Take Your Love From Me.”

The old Doris Day movie tune “It’s Magic,” penned by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, also became a Smith trademark ballad, and her lyrical prestidigitation still weaves a spell.

Smith, whose caricature graces the music stands as in the old big band days, is backed by 10 crack musicians under the direction of Dennis Michaels.

Joe Cocuzzo, Rosemary Clooney’s favorite drummer and a vet of the great Woody Herman band, is a force of nature. He drives the band like a gathering storm. Jerry Vivino fills the old Butera chair with his lusty tenor sax interludes. His gritty solo for “Basin Street Blues” fuels Smith’s New Orleans take.

The swinging arrangements are by Michaels, and from the trunk there are a few choice charts by Billy May and Riddle.

Smith, who adds some witty observations along the way, nixed an offer to make a pic of Prima’s life and times when pint-sized Danny DeVito requested to play the lead. Noting that Prima was six feet tall, she asked, “Who would play me? Dr. Ruth?”

Keely Smith

Feinstein's at the Regency; 150 capacity; $60

Production

Presented inhouse. Opened and reviewed March 18, 2004.

Cast

Musicians: Dennis Michaels, Kenny Ascher, Jim O'Connor, John Chudoba, Ben Williams, Joe Cocuzzo, Jerry Vivino, Chip Jackson.
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