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Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses are packed with energy and are – just pure fun. At no point during the show do they let you forget that they are entertainers. For two solid hours, their upbeat show played hits going back to a different time. Every moment was absolutely enchanting.

The City Winery is an upscale restaurant/concert venue with a superb wait-staff. Their food, wine and, decorated tables made a perfect atmosphere for Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses. A well-dressed crowd entered the establishment after using valet parking, ate edible creations that were out of this world, and sipped on delicious wines just prior to the show. Candle lit tables, glass bottles of water and cloth napkins set the scene for one of the best shows on Earth.

For approximately five decades Louis Prima Sr. entertained crowds with his musical show in a positive and comedic way. Performers have been covering his music and style since the 1930’s. Benny Goodman, David Lee Roth, and Brian Setzer are among the most popular names to do versions of the great Louis Prima’s work. His son, Louis Prima Jr., is now paying homage to the music his father wrote and other work from different artists.

The Witnesses came out and started to prepare the audience for an incredible band leader, Louis Prima Jr. The horns were pumping and out walked the man in his striped suit who immediately started to sing the opening number “Jump, Jive an’ Wail.” The music was right on the money with every beat, note, and song performed.

A favorite song for so many people was “Just a Gigolo (I ain’t got nobody)”. The song was performed so well that it was just like the original recording. The Keely Smith role for the evening was covered by the extremely talented Leslie Spencer. Her voice was just as powerful as Keely’s was and she nailed every note with perfection during the concert. The mixtures of the male and female voices were done in the same vein as the original artist to whom this show was patterned after.

Louis took time to speak to the audience like they were friends. He made eye contact with anyone and everyone who was close enough to the stage. He mentioned that recently his son had been sick and was in and out of the hospital a lot over a year and a half. He continued to explain that, “The only thing that held it together was playing with his band and performing on stage for such wonderful people. The people in the band are very important to me.” Without their personal relationships, he would not have been able to go on.

The time during the show was held together by A.D. Adams on drums and Johnathan Frias on bass. These two kept the time so well and paved the road of songs for all the other stand-alone musicians on the stage. On guitar was Ryan McKay with a nice hollow body electric and blended well with the keyboard player Gregg Fox. Their high notes were in sync all night with the sax player Marco Palos and Ted Schumacher on trumpet. Another bottom end performer was the baritone sax player William Pattinson who hit notes that you felt deep down in your soul. Phillip Clevinger was the trombone player and together they all made up an incredible band.

All of them displayed incredible showmanship as they didn’t just come out and play their instruments of choice. They played and moved around without stopping. They aren’t just musicians; they are entertainers.

When “Angelina” began, almost every concertgoer in the place was singing with joy. “Oh, mama zooma zooma baccala” was being belted out at every table during the song about the waitress at the pizzeria.

The comedic number, “Banana Split For My Baby” was a definite highlight during the show. Louis warned everyone that he can never remember all the words of the storytelling song that put a smile on so many faces. He started to fumble the words, but regained himself immediately and laughed. No one seemed to care as he went on with grace describing all he wanted his baby to have.

The Witnesses talent is not just within the instruments they play. They all sing well and proved it throughout the night. Louis took a seat behind the drums and A.D. Admas came out to the front of the stage and they started in with the Chicago song, “25 or 6 to 4.” The horn section played every piece with accuracy. The band also continued to belt out the songs “Evil Ways”, “Proud Mary”, and “Your Mama Don’t Dance”. The entire band was like a jukebox for the evening playing one hit song after another.

Toward the end of the show Louis marched out into the audience with his band members following him in a single file line. They slapped hands, did high fives, and showed everyone how down to earth they really are. They finally made it back to the stage and unfortunately the show was over.

Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses laid out such an awesome evening that no one in the entire venue could have been disappointed. The vibe itself expressed from the music and the band’s personality created an overall feeling of warmth. No band could ever leave an audience in a happier mood. The entire evening was just a joy and an honor to see. As people waited in the streets for the valet parking attendants to bring back their vehicles, one man made a comment about the show. “I’m so stoked! I can’t wait to see him again.” Everyone nodded in agreement. It was just a tremendous evening at The City Winery.

 

Published in In Concert

From the moment actor Anthony Crivello as Jazz great, Louis Prima, is wheeled onto the stage on a hospital bed speaking to us from a coma, and snaps his fingers to begin the story of his life, the audience is absolutely enthralled by his manic yet superbly commanding presence until the last moment of the show 90 minutes later.

“Live at the Sahara” looks like another hit for very talented producer, Hershey Felder. Academy Award Winning director and writer Taylor Hackford and writers Jake Broder, and Vanessa Stewart have written a fast moving, compelling 90 minute version of Prima’s life beginning when his big band goes out of style and Prima reinvents his act by taking on a seventeen-year-old songbird he renames Keely Smith.

Vanessa Claire Stewart not only helped write this dynamite and very entertaining and touching true love story, she also stars beautifully and believably as the modernly talented Keely Smith.

The show is packed with Prima and Keely hit songs from their once very successful Vegas cabaret act performed with his over the top enthusiasm and her cool cat like deadpan nonchalance like, “What is This Thing Called Love”, “I Can’t Believe Your In Love With Me”, “Hey Boy, Hey Girl”, “Night Train”, “Ai,Ai,Ai” and of course their most famous “That Ol’ Black Magic”.

Prima helped Keely become a star then deeply resented and even hated her for it.  Keely gave him two daughters and helped him completely revive his sagging career with her wonderful voice and youthful, ahead of her time hipster energy, but in the final analysis Prima cheated on her and drove her into the arms of friend and producer Frank Sinatra (played with swagger by Paul Perroni). Erin Mathews was a delight in her many ensemble roles as Keely’s mom and later as the many women who came between Keely and Prima.

I loved the seven-piece band that played the entire show onstage and became part of the play many times. The staging and costumes were true to period but I got the feeling this is just a build up for what should be a very nice, large Broadway show in the future. I wanted to see more of the duo in their complete stage act, about ten minutes more and more of the supporting characters.  Also, I felt the show and script were so interesting, detailed and well written that there could have been a nice twenty-minute intermission without disturbing the flow at all. It actually makes Crivello’s performance even more impressive that he maintained his energy at such a high level almost nonstop.

Anthony Crivellos’ performance really has Tony Award written all over it (he previously won a Tony Award for best featured actor as Valentin in Kiss of the Spider Woman). Crivello is so full of Prima’s hard to copy musical manic energy and rhythms it was mind blowing to watch. In the final scene where Prima has lost Keely, and his second family of daughters and suffered a heart attack leaving him comatose for three years before his death, Crivello sings another version of “Just a Gigolo” with a heart breaking and teeth grinding pathos that just shakes the audience to its core, making you realize his own tragic fatal flaw was written by him in this song years earlier.

“Just a gigolo, everywhere I go
People know the part I'm playing
Paid for every dance
Selling each romance
Every night some heart betraying
There will come a day
Youth will pass away
Then what will they say about me
When the end comes I know
They'll say just a gigolo
As life goes on without me”

Throughout Prima’s life, his friends and the women who loved him tried to convince him to settle down into the gift of family life but his ego and desire to be the sole STAR, even at the expense of his own wife’s devoted love and friendship, ruin every opportunity for healthy continuity.

Prima tried and failed to be a Svengali to one more young songstress after driving Keely way for good but never realized that Keely was his once in a lifetime, irreplaceable, creative soul mate.

I highly recommend seeing “Louis and Keely, Live at the Sahara”, it is a solidly written, dynamically played production that is filled with great classic music and a true life story of genius and showbiz both victorious and tragic.

“Louis and Keely, Live at the Sahara is playing at Royal George Theatre on an open ended run. For tickets and show info visit http://www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com/.  

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