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Oregon Cabaret brings back popular '50s genre

"Pete 'n? Keely," James Hindman's stylish and entertaining — look at a bygone era of TV variety shows and entertainment specials, will — take the stage at Oregon Cabaret Theatre starting Friday.

If you lived during the '40s, '50s or '60s, you know this — story well and you've seen versions of it on TV. If you don't remember, — then you're in for a fun ride.

Imagine a fictional couple who become a very famous singing — duo in the 1950s. They get married and become a very famous husband and — wife duo, appearing on a number of TV specials. The marriage lasts for — 12 years and in 1963, they get divorced.

"Those 12 years together were three of the happiest days — of my life," Pete recalls.

To which Keely responds, "Ba-dump-bump."

But wait. There's more. The two pursue solo careers and, — as often happens, are not particularly successful. In 1968, the sponsor — of their previous shows, Swell shampoo, decides to put on a reunion special — to bring them back.

"If Swell can get Pete and Keely back together," the commercial — announces, "think what it will do for your split ends!"

The OCT audience will be the studio audience for the "live" — broadcast. The studio orchestra will feature Darcy Danielson on piano, — Jim Malachi on drums and Bruce McKern on bass. The music for the show — includes standards from the era of TV specials, with some originals added. — The style is '60s swinging pop, jazz-influenced sounds.

Danielson plays the part of the band leader Dolores who — is like the Doc Severinsen or Paul Schafer character on late night TV. —

She found the music delightfully arranged.

"These arrangements stay true to the style," she said. —

"The originals sound like they came from that era."

The singing is almost always duets with a few solos.

"I really like harmony and this has a lot of harmony," — said Susannah Mars, who plays Keely. "Stylistically it's a little edgier — than the straight Big Band kind of sound. Singers were like instruments — in the '40s big band jazz. In the '50s and '60s, they are personalities."

Pete and Keely, though fictional, have a little touch — of some other famous singing couples: Steve and Eydie, Sonny and Cher — and Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence.

The show evokes the whole era of TV variety shows and — specials, an era that is pretty much gone.

"I remember the 'Carol Burnett Show'" Mars said. "There — was a sense of theater and reality that made viewers feel they really — knew the (people in the show). My best friend Wendy's mom, Carol, always — called these people by their first names."

And when performers appeared on TV, viewers always had — the feeling they were talking to them.

"I like the fact that they're bringing back a format where — people had time to get to know the performers," Mars said. "Nowadays, — the star-making machine is so different. It's geared to younger people. — And the attention span has been whittled down almost to zero."

The arc of the couple's relationship is the main story — and it moves through everything, from what they're singing to their banter — during commercial breaks.

"Steve and Eydie always had that banter back and forth," — said Jim Giancarlo, OCT artistic director. "They were working constantly."

"It cracks through," said Gregg Preston, who plays Pete. — "And the cracks get bigger." But through it all, what remains is the loving — sense of humor.

Oddly enough, the real Steve and Eydie will be opening — at the Sahara Club in Las Vegas the same weekend as "Pete 'n? Keely" opens — at OCT.

Giancarlo is thrilled that he was able to rent the original — costumes from the original off-Broadway production that premiered in 2000. —

"They were designed by Bob Mackie, the quintessential — show-biz designer who created gowns for Carol Burnett and all of Cher's — outrageous glamour costumes from the 'Sonny and Cher? TV show," Giancarlo — said. "His costumes for 'Pete 'n? Keely? are the height of late '60s glamour — and chic."

Preston is from Seattle, where he has appeared at ACT, — the Empty Space, Village Theatre and the Group Theatre. Mars hails from — Portland, where she performs in musical theater. She most recently appeared — in Portland Center Stage's production of "Bat Boy."

Giancarlo is directing with musical direction by Danielson. — Set and lighting design are by Craig Hudson, sound design is by Frank — Sullivan and wig design is by Victoria King. Kathleen Mahoney is the stage — manager.