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  • Wendy Shreve

HISTORICAL SAWDUST: LIVE AT MR. KELLY'S

if you grew up following the music scene in or near New York City or Los Angeles during the fifties and later, singular nightclubs featuring jazz vocalists/musicians, stand-up comedians, and popular performers come to mind easily. The Village Vanguard or The Dunbar Club may be recognizable. To Chicago denizens familiar with that era, they'd tell you about some of jazz's greatest artists, comedy's funniest early entertainers, plus up-and-coming notables--Lainie Kazan, Diane Ladd, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand--who cemented their popularity at the club, Mr. Kelly's (and its forerunner/concurrent restaurant, The London House).



Live at Mister Kelly's (2021) takes the viewer on a nostalgic journey beginning with its founding by the Marienthal Brothers (George and Oscar) in 1953. Named after the former proprietor, the restaurant/nightclub attracted, via Oscar's charm and wherewithal, top-notch talent. Jazz artists such as Ramsey Lewis, Sarah Vaughn, Herbie Hancock, Billie Holiday; comedians including Richard Carlin, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin wowed diverse audiences (a rare phenomenon in Chicago then).


Director Theodore Bogosian chooses the conventional route of inserting audio-clips (few visual ones have survived) of many of the performers with one fascinating detraction from the formula. In the film, he has jazz radio host Rhonda Hamilton (known for nationally syndicated show NPR's "Jazz Set") introduce many of the singers/instrumentalists who performed at the club, pulling recordings from her extensive collection--some of the LPs include live music from Mister Kelly's and The Hudson House. Having Hamilton share her expertise, provide anecdotes enhances the documentary.


Narrated by professional broadcaster Bill Kurtis, adds gravitas to the story. Interviews by the director include the Marienthal family, Bob Newhart, Mort Sahl, Barbra Streisand (voice only), Lily Tomlin, the late Fred Willard, Lainie Kazan, among others.


And, stories about the club's history rarely disappoint. One revelation about devastating fires doesn't mention how they began. Mr. Kelly's being situated in a neighborhood of competing clubs (including mob-owned) attracted dubious guests, making the story even more intriguing.


Mix a martini or pour yourself a non-alcoholic beverage. Then toast and watch the unfolding narrative of an iconic nightclub from a bygone era, Live at Mr. Kelly's.


Unrated. Language toned down but some spicy stories may be unsuitable for younger folk.


Available via digital platforms on October 12th.



Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com


Care to share? Post or e-mail your comments to featuringfilmreviewer@gmail.com

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