The award-winning actor Anthony Crivello, whose varied credits include everything from playing Valentin in the Kander and Ebb musical “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (for which he won a Tony as best featured actor in a musical), to appearing as Maxwell, “the independent contractor,” on “Seinfeld,” has been cast as Louis Prima in “Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at the Sahara,” a musical play directed by award-winning filmmaker Taylor Hackford and produced by Hershey Felder.
The show, which will begin performances March 27 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, captures the relationship between Prima, the singer, actor, songwriter, and trumpeter renowned for leading his band through all the major pop trends of his time (from New Orleans jazz of the 1920s, to 1930s swing, to the big band sound of the 1940s, to a Vegas lounge act in the 1950s, and a pop-rock band in the 1960s), and Keely Smith (to be played, as previously announced, by Vanessa Stewart,who originated the role and also wrote the show’s book).
Featured as part of the storytelling will be performances of the duo’s greatest hits (backed by a seven-piece live band), including “That Ol’ Black Magic,” “Hey Boy, Hey Girl,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “Night Train,” Ai, Ai, Ai,” “I Can’t Believe You’re In Love With Me,” and others. Frank Sinatra also appears in a pivotal role in this musical love story and will be cast in Chicago.
One of the great musical innovator/entrepreneurs of the 20th century, Prima’s star began to fade by the early 1950s, but things changed once he discovered teenager Keely Smith in a tiny Virginia Beach dive. In Pygmalion-like fashion, Prima finessed Keely’s stage fright and then molded her natural singing talent into a totally unique stage presence. And together they turned a two week gig on the floor of the Sahara Hotel’s Casino in Las Vegas into one of the most influential music acts of the ‘50s & 60s – an act that in many ways was replicated a decade later by Sonny & Cher. Prima & Smith’s onstage chemistry inevitably grew into a love story (and a tale of heartbreak), a tale chronicled in this show.
In a prepared statement, Crivello noted: “Being Sicilian, and coming from a musical family, to be able to perform the role of Louis Prima, is somewhat being given the status of a god. To be able to bring the story to life with all its layers – Sicilian, New Orleans Jazz, wrapped up in a complicated emotional love story is an actor’s dream come true. Moreover, my Sicilian parents are smiling.”
Stewart observed: “My grandfather saw Louis Prima’s last performance at the Royal Sonesta in New Orleans, where I’m from, and it was always my dream to meet Keely Smith, an icon of female performance. When she attended the original performance and told me that I made a wonderful ‘her,’ it really was a dream come true.”
“Louis & Keely” arrives in Chicago on the heels of a seven-month sold-out engagement at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse, and multiple Ovation Awards including best musical.
For tickets ($65) call (312) 988-9000 or visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com.