Aired on KSDS-FM on 2/15/19
RUN DATES: 2/2/19 – 3/10/19
VENUE: New Village Arts
Lyricist Jerry Leiber and composer Mike Stoller wrote some funny, rockin’ and poignant pop songs, with 70 chart hits in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They had a major impact on early rock & roll, bringing R&B and boogie-woogie into the mix.
Some of their songs, like “On Broadway,” “Stand By Me,” and “I’m a Woman,” have become classics, but some just sound silly today, like “Poison Ivy,” “Love Potion #9,” “DW Washburn” and “Charlie Brown.”
In other words, a little Leiber & Stoller goes a long way. The revue of their music, “Smokey Joe’s Café,” premiered in 1995, and was the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history. But that was a long time ago. The revue format, without any dialogue or unifying theme, is a lot less popular than it used to be. And 39 songs is a lot of songs for any show.
So it’s commendable that New Village Arts director and music director Tony Houck tried to modernize the piece, re-setting it in “urban America today,” He wanted the songs to hang together, rather than just being strung and sung separately. He wanted the music to suggest characters with backstories, and even a narrative arc.
While it’s a great idea, I’m not sure the effort is wholly successful. I’d be hard-pressed to describe exactly who each of the nine talented cast members is supposed to be, but they each certainly get an opportunity to showcase their unique and prodigious talents.
The voices and harmonies are impressive, but the sound mix and balance wasn’t quite right when I attended, so the excellent 6-piece band often overpowered the singers.
Not everyone is a natural dancer, but choreographer Michael Mizerany provides many clever moves, and the two most accomplished dancers, Natasha Baenisch and Trevor Rex, get some terrific stage-time.
The humor is highlighted and the energy is consistently high, but there are definitely some slow spots and lesser songs.
Still, if you’re a fan of early pop-rock, you’ll be happy to clap and tap along.
©2019 PAT LAUNER