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Louis Prima: The Wild One

Louis Prima great for the AARP set

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Village Playhouse artistic director Keely Enright described The Wild One as similar to an A&E special on the life and times of Louis Prima. I can’t think of a more apt description: the show was educational, accurate (in most ways), and a little slow-paced. And as someone with no interest in a particular subject probably wouldn’t want to watch an in-depth documentary on it, anyone but die-hard Prima fans might find this production a tad boring.

Enright’s concept for the show, the third in a series focusing on great composer/performers of the 20th century, is innovative. Utilizing a mixture of mini history lessons from the five cast members, sound and video clips, and songs, the show gives a comprehensive overview of the career of “the King of the Hepcats.”

The problem is, there was a lack of cohesion between the different elements. The actors scurried behind the screen when the lights went down and a short clip played, then ran back out. The clips themselves seemed awkwardly placed, breaking up the flow. Hearing and seeing the charismatic Louis in action was certainly invaluable (one of my favorite parts of the show, actually), but they could have been integrated more smoothly.

Another slightly grating detail was the actors’ wardrobe — mainly the women’s. Every few songs they’d change into something different, but markedly similar to what they were wearing before. And while the various time periods the show spans — ranging from the’20s on to the ’60s — offers a huge variety of classic styles to choose from, many of the dresses look as if they were bought in Kohl’s junior’s section. The wigs were pretty bad too.

While the first half of the show was heavy on the lecture-like history lessons, things picked up after the intermission, at which time Keely Smith, Prima’s fourth wife, entered the picture. The two were a big hit, making movies together and starring in a hugely popular lounge act in Las Vegas. Mary Hess as Smith was definitely a stand-out, and her duets with Musical Director Joe Clarke were the most charming of the night.

Another stand-out in the show was John Roberts, who tried hard to capture Prima’s charismatic

energy — perhaps too hard. Like Clarke, he did a great job of emulating Prima’s singing style, but he paired that with a downright goofy dance that had the audience laughing when I’m not sure they were supposed to be.

While the show had its share of shortcomings, they’re nothing that can’t be ironed out. The real reason for seeing the show is the music, and save for a few songs, that did not disappoint. The Joe Clarke Band were excellent, and classic songs — like “Sing, Sing, Sing,” “Banana Split for My Baby,” “Zooma Zooma,” and “Jump, Jive, and Wail” — were sung enthusiastically and sometimes very impressively (Jenna Brinson’s “How High the Moon”). If Louis Prima is your man, or you’re in the mood for an interesting history lesson, see the show. Otherwise, save the $25 and catch it on A&E.

Louis Prima: The Wild One • Piccolo Spoleto Theatre Series • $25 • 1 hour 30 min • May 29, June 4 at 8 p.m.; June 1 at 7 p.m.; June 7 at 3 p.m. • Village Playhouse, 730 Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant • (888) 374-2656

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