Robert Bush 8:35 a.m., May 25
NBC bounced Bonanza to bring you an event so big it rivals the birth of Little Rickey. Pete Bartel and Keely Stevens - that's right, America's sweethearts - are reuniting live!
Okay, they've gone their separate ways since the divorce, and their solo albums wallowed in the mire (Keely A-Go-Go anyone?). But those rumors about his womanizing and her thirst for firewater? Tabloid palaver. They're getting along just fine.
The premise is familiar. Legendary entertainers, their names forever linked (like Steve and Eydie, Martin and Lewis), rejoin after a break-up. On the surface they gleam; not far beneath, they seethe, the old wounds still divide them - until the end.
James Hindman's two-character musical sticks to the formula. You know where it's headed before it starts. Sparks will fly at predictable points. Love will salve.
What also becomes predictable at Lamb's Players: Phil Johnson and Eileen Bowman will nail every number and entertain in spite of the creaky vehicle.
And they walk an amazing tightrope throughout: a dead cross between genuine talent and glitter gulchy cheese. Call it "sincere parody"? Johnson must have majored in Lounge as a Second Language. He's got all the mannerisms from kitsch gestures to wistful whisperings. You half expect him to say "I'm sure you recognize my signature song." And I mean it.
And when he has a big solo, as the audience snaps its fingers in unison, Johnson does "Fever" full justice.
Bowman shines throughout as well. Donning a bizarre assortment of wigs, and enough sequence to illumine a small country, Bowman croons, belts, and delivers. Her renditions of "Black Coffee" and especially "Wasn't It Fine" dive beneath the showbiz veneer and resonate.
One of their best numbers comes early: an over-the-top, spangly-syrupy rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" to die for. Hey, Elvis did it. Why not Pete and Keely? Though Elvis never sang "His truth...darling, it just goes marching onnnnnnnnn."
Under Kerry Meads' direction, and Colleen Kollar Smyth's inventive choreography, Bowman and Johnson brilliantly convey the need - it's way beyond an addiction - this couple has for approval.
What the production could use a bit more, however, are the sparks (which often feel more rehearsed than spontaneous) and the lingering threat that the live show may implode.
The musical takes place in 1968. Mike Buckley's set, the interior of an NBC studio, reeks of peacocks and creamy sherbert colors and provides ample room for a tight backup band. Jeanne Barnes Reith's costumes, as usual, define period and character to a T.
Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado, playing through March 3.