Theater & Dance
Review
"Smokey Joe's Café: The Songs of Lieber and Stoller"

Created by: Stephen Helper, Jack Viertel and Otis Sallid; words and music by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller
Produced by: Broadway By The Bay
Directed by: Brandon Jackson
Choreographed by: Camille Edralin
Music direction by: Sean Kana
Featuring: Chris Aceves, Jessica Coker, Anthone Jackson, Janelle LaSalle, Cadarious Mayberry, Montel Anthony Nord, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Majesty Scott, Cheyenne Wells
Band: Sean Kana, piano; Danny Min, bass; Steve Cassinelli, guitar; Larry DeLaCruz, saxophone; Ken Bergmann, drums
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, June 2 through June 18, 2017
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway Street, Redwood City
Tickets: $44 to $66; call 650-369-7770, visit broadwaybythebay.org, or visit the Fox Theatre Box Office at 2219 Broadway Street, Redwood City

LaSalle, Coker, Wells, Scott
Mark and Tracy Photography / Broadway By The Bay
Janelle LaSalle, Jessica Coker, Cheyenne Wells and Majesty Scott, from left, rock the house with "I'm a Woman,"in "Smokey Joe’s Café” as staged by Broadway By The Bay at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, June 2 through June 18, 2017. That's Anthone Jackson at right.
'Smokey Joe's Café' gets a great
show at Broadway By The Bay
The good news: It's fabulous and fun
The bad news: It has a short run that closes on June 18
June 4, 2017

Director Brandon Jackson and Music Director Sean Kana have, happily, hit upon a couple of ways of solving a common weakness of revue shows.

They make almost every song so interesting, entertaining and even emotionally touching that it just doesn't matter if there is a unifying story.

After all, when Stephen Helper, Jack Viertel and Otis Sallid came up with the idea for "Smokey Joe's Café," it was to be strictly a revue, with no dialogue, and the only effort to unify the 39 songs by Lieber and Stoller was to reprise a couple of tunes. And still, the show, thanks to the fabulous tunes such as "Young Blood," "Dance With Me," "Searchin'," "On Broadway," "I'm a Woman" and many others, became the longest running revue in Broadway history.

But still, "Smokey Joe's Café" can get dull, especially for people who maybe don't care about such pop classics as "Kansas City," "Hound Dog," "Little Egypt" and "Stand By Me."

Jackson and Kana moved the order of songs a little bit from the original production, opening with "Neighborhood" ("Here's a picture of the neighborhood, here's the corner where we once stood") then reprising it as the penultimate tune. And, in the program at least, they give all the performers character names.

Meh. "Neighborhood" can be deadly dull, although this cast and band bring beauty to it, and giving the characters names — whoever's idea that was, script or this team — is just annoying. Want to know who sang that beautiful ballad? Oh. It was Victor. Who is Victor? (Turn page in program.) Oh. That was Cadarious Mayberry singing.

What really works to make this show pop, and that had people standing up and cheering at the venerable Fox Theatre in Redwood City, is that Jackson, Kana and band and cast really sell every single song with as much creativity, humor and passion as can be delivered. "Young Blood," second song of the show, is a powerful paean of lust for a beautiful woman on stage, sung and danced by Anthone Jackson, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Montel Anthony Nord and Mayberry.

The same fellows teamed for "Keep on Rollin'," which was hilarious, and very well sung.

Cheyenne Wells and Janelle LaSalle were hotter than pepper sprouts for "Trouble," which also featured some very sexy silhouettes of them on the walls, thanks to excellent lighting by Aaron Spivey. Mayberry was hilarious and charming as the title drunk of "D.W. Washburn," and Jessica Coker, LaSalle, Wells and Majesty Scott knocked everybody's eyes out with "I'm a Woman."

Choreographer Camille Edralin and dance captain Chris Aceves deserve lots of credit for making almost every song interesting to watch, as well as to hear.

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Aceves is a very good actor and dancer, and brings lots of charm to his performances of "Kansas City" and other tunes, but he is the least interesting of the nine singers. His singing is too precise. It's like watching him read sheet music to hear him sing. Rock 'n' roll, like all forms of jazz, is based on improvisation, and Aceves doesn't seem to push himself for that.

He was much fun to watch, though, especially when he performed "Teach Me How to Shimmy" with Wells. Not that it was easy to tear eyes away from the beautiful, aggressively shimmying Wells to look at Aceves. Wow.

Coker had some of the most powerful performances, especially with "Fools Fall in Love" and "Saved." She has a big voice and delivers it with power to spare. Yow.

She also did "Dance With Me," with most of the men, and the choreography makes fun of her being a bit chubby. Some people like to make fun of chubby people. Not me, but some. I found it offensive, since I myself am so fat I have my own weather systems.

Janelle LaSalle
Mark and Tracy / BBB
Janelle LaSalle was red hot for the song "Trouble."

Nord and LaSalle teamed for a beautiful rendition of "Spanish Harlem."

And Mayberry absolutely broke hearts and moved people to tears with a hugely powerful performance of "I (Who Have Nothing)." Magnificent.

Kana, on piano, and Danny Min on bass, Steve Cassinelli on guitar, Larry DeLaCruz on saxophone and Ken Bergmann on drums were solid all night, upstage, behind most of the dancing and singing. Excellent musicians, all.

Kana and his piano were moved forward for a while in the second act, including for the tune "Stay a While," which featured Kana singing, in a duet with Nord. While he sang, I thought, "Man, he ought to be singing more songs in this show!" He's a fine singer.

Scenic Designer Kelly James Tighe did fine job with that huge stage, with the kind of metal frameworks that are oft seen in Broadway By The Bay shows, and a huge projection backdrop. It all worked beautifully.

Sound design by Jon Hayward was excellent. All the singing could be heard clearly, and the balance between singers and band was always exactly right.

Leandra Watson's costumes are terrific fun. Beautiful, handsome and sexy when called for, and goofy when goofiness reigns.

All that being said, there are a very few tunes that just didn't work for me. But, that's me. Maybe your selection of favorites will be different. And wow, this is a fast-paced show. One song doesn't please you? Wait two or three seconds, another tune is coming. The band got a real workout — the singers and dancers mostly got some breaks between tunes, but not the band.

Part of the fun of opening night on Friday was the number of people in the audience who were singing along with tunes they'd loved to hear on the radio when they were children. And people who shouted back at the singers ("That's right!" shouted some, during "I'm a Woman.")

It only got ugly when one woman tried to clap in time to "Stand By Me," but had no musical sense at all. Musicians have an old joke: "Friends don't let friends clap on one and three." This particular woman tried to hit on pretty much every beat at some point, which got ugly before she was finally convinced to stop, letting the rest of us continue to enjoy the excellent performance of Jackson and the rest of the cast.

Really, it was a wonderful night in the theater. This production does a truly excellent job with those wonderful old tunes.

Get your tickets soonest: It only runs through June 18, 2017; two shows on Saturdays, one on Sundays.

Email John Orr at johnorr@regardingarts.com

Mayberry, Rollins-Mullens, Jackson, Nord
Mark and Tracy Photography / Broadway By The Bay
Cadarious Mayberry, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Anthone Jackson and Montel Anthony Nord, from left, in "Smokey Joe’s Café" as staged by Broadway By The Bay at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, June 2 through June 18, 2017.
Aceves, Wells, Mayberry, Jackson
Mark and Tracy Photography / Broadway By The Bay
Chris Aceves, second from rights, begs Cheyenne Wells to "Teach Me How to Shimmy" while Cadarious Mayberry, left, and Anthone Jackson each get an eyeful in "Smokey Joe’s Café" as staged by Broadway By The Bay at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, June 2 through June 18, 2017.
Jackson, Nord, Rollins-Mullens, Mayberry
Mark and Tracy Photography / Broadway By The Bay
Anthone Jackson, Montel Anthony Nord, Anthony Rollins-Mullens and Cadarious Mayberry, from left, are very fun to watch while they perform "Keep on Rollin'" in "Smokey Joe’s Café" as staged by Broadway By The Bay at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, June 2 through June 18, 2017.
Nord, Mayberry, Rollines-Mullens, Jackson, Aceves, Scott, LaSalle, Coker, Wells
Mark and Tracy Photography / Broadway By The Bay
Montel Anthony Nord, Cadarious Mayberry, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Anthone Jackson and Chris Aceves from left in back and Majesty Scott, Janelle LaSalle, Jessica Coker and Cheyenne Wells in "Smokey Joe’s Café” as staged by Broadway By The Bay at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, June 2 through June 18, 2017.


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