Smokey Joe’s Café, onstage now through Theatre Raleigh and directed by Julia Murney, is a true musical revue- meaning it features short vignettes, none of them related to one another, that go along with songs. In this case, the songs in question are 39 hits from Leiber and Stoller. And, while the songs are somewhat dated and while some might argue that musical revues themselves are dated in this time of movies-turned-musicals being all the rage, there is still something so refreshing and pleasant about this show that it’s impossible not to enjoy it.
Perhaps the most major thing that makes this musical so very enjoyable is the strong cast and its vibrant energy. The cast is nicely diverse, with performers of various genders, races, and ages, yet they all share a wonderful chemistry- the kind that makes them seem like best friends and that beckons the viewers into the world they’ve created onstage.
There’s also the fact that the show slips along so breezily. One song flows easily into the next, thanks in large part to smart staging and wonderfully fluid choreography by Abbey O’Brien. And, while each musical section has merit of its own, there are definitely some real standouts. The “Dance With Me” number and the “There Goes My Baby” number are particularly notable for their fun, standout choreography while “Charlie Brown,” “Love Potion #9,” and a host of others are just plain fun. However, the “Little Egypt” number, which features all of the men in the cast, is arguably the funniest in the show, at least by this reviewer’s standards.
No matter which song is being presented, the cast members handle the vocals with ease and fresh energy. Randy Cain is particularly charming with his ultra-deep voice while youthful Melvin Gray bursts off the stage with charm and sparkle; he’s especially funny and endearing in the aforementioned “There Goes My Baby Number.” Really, every cast member could be singled out and praised, for each one adds something special and distinctive that blends into a wonderful whole.
Smokey Joe’s Café is a bit different compared to most of today’s theatre, but it’s a good kind of different. Though simple and old-fashioned in some ways, all of that is really part of the charm. Thanks to a great cast, solid direction, and that special effervescent quality that seems to just magically show up in theatre every so often, this show manages to be incredibly refreshing and pleasant without hitting any saccharine notes.
Theatre Raleigh presents SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ: THE SONGS OF LEIBER AND STOLLER at 2 and 8 p.m. June 3, 3 p.m. June 4, 8 p.m. June 7-9, 2 and 8 p.m. June 10, and 3 p.m. June 11 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $32.50 ($30.50 students, seniors 65+, and and active-duty military personnel), except $26 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9997, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S610000035dSdEAI. GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-832-9997 or email@example.com.
2017 SEASON: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/2017-season/.
NOTE: Theatre Raleigh has scheduled a special $40-per-person OUT Night performance at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 8th, with 20 percent of the proceeds going to the LGBT Center of Raleigh. The OUT Night ticket price includes a postshow Party on the Patio, with cabaret performances by Greg Moore, Kevin O’Barr, Theatre Raleigh artistic director Lauren Kennedy, and others.
Smokey Joe’s Café (1995 Broadway and 1996 West End musical revue): http://www.rnh.com/show/93/Smokey-Joes-Cafe–The-Songs-of-Leiber-and-Stoller (Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization page), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/smokey-joes-cafe-8112 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smokey_Joe%27s_Cafe (Wikipedia).
Jerry Leiber (lyricist, 1933-2011): http://www.leiberstoller.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jerry-leiber-12041 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Leiber_and_Mike_Stoller (Wikipedia).
Mike Stoller (composer, 1933-): http://www.leiberstoller.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/mike-stoller-12452 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Leiber_and_Mike_Stoller (Wikipedia).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.