They may not look much like Louis Prima and Keely Smith, but the two actors channeling the famous lounge duo at the Sacred Fools Theater are so good that you're bound to forget they're not the real thing, at least for 90 minutes.
That's how long it takes for Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith -- remember those names; they ought to be famous if there's justice in this world -- to work their way through the showbiz couple's courtship, marriage and breakup.
"Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara" is a simple biographical story told with infectious retro pizazz. It's also one of the best musicals playing in town.
Told in a hallucinated flashback as Prima lies comatose in a hospital bed, the show picks up in the late 1940s when the King of the Swingers first encounters the ingenue Keely at an audition. She lands a part as a singer in the band just as Prima is about to move to Las Vegas to set up shop at the Sahara.
What separates "Louis & Keely" from jukebox musicals like "Jersey Boys" and "Mamma Mia!" is its scaled-down simplicity. The intimate size of the Sacred Fools space forces the actors to focus their voices and performances with ruthless precision. You can't fake it when you're singing that close to the audience. Together, the leads perform 17 numbers and nail each one.
Playing Prima with boundless energy, Broder captures his character's obnoxious off-stage personality while suggesting that his faults were integral to his on-stage appeal. Broder's athletic mimicry is a real hoot to watch and he looks as if he loses 10 pounds just bouncing around the stage. Equally good, Smith brings a stand-offish hostility to her character that defrosts exquisitely when she performs songs such as "That Old Black Magic" or "I've Got You Under My Skin."
"Louis & Keely" tracks the usual showbiz ups and downs rather mechanically (the lead actors also wrote the script). But it's easy to forgive the cliches when there's so much musical mayhem to distract you. The live, seven-member band plays with gregarious showmanship. And director Jeremy Aldridge synthesizes it all into one shiny package. This is musical theater at its most rousing and entertaining. Go twice.
'Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara'
Where: Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Ends: July 27
Contact: (310) 281-8337
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes