Aired on KSDS-FM on 5/18/18
RUN DATES: 5/4/18 – 6/9/18
VENUE: OnStage Playhouse
San Diego is laying out the welcome mat for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
The legendary songwriting team is being celebrated at two local theaters within a year’s time.
“Smokey Joe’s Café,” a Tony Award nominee and Grammy Award winner, features three dozen of the pair’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rhythm & Blues classics, like “”On Broadway,” “Stand By Me” and “Kansas City.” Leiber and Stoller were the kings behind the kings, providing hits for icons like Elvis, Ben E. King, The Coasters and The Drifters.
The show became Broadway’s longest-running musical revue, opening in 1995 and running for more than 2000 performances. It’s more a cabaret show than a musical. There’s no dialogue, and no particular unifying theme or organizational structure. Just one heartfelt or humorous song after another: Got “Poison Ivy?” Cure it with “Love Potion #9.”
Right now, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is at the OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. Come winter, it’ll be in Carlsbad at New Village Arts, in a whole different production.
OnStage guest director and choreographer Shirley Johnston is the best part of this production. She’s the strongest dancer, and she scorches sexy numbers like “Don Juan” and “Some Cats Know.”
Dominique Dates and Belinda Pickens are real finds – both new to musical theater, with powerhouse voices. Pickens, a lifelong church singer, kills a slow-burning “Hound Dog.” The ladies band together for a hot rendition of “I’m a Woman.”
Other performance standouts: Reggie Hutchins’ “Spanish Harlem,” Kyle Leatherbury’s “I (Who Have Nothing)” and Raymond Stratford III’s “Young Blood.”
Emma Rose Tarr works that fringe in “Teach Me How to Shimmy,” and Jake Strohl nails “Jailhouse Rock.” Alexander Salazar-Dunbar adds his bass to the mix.
The costumes aren’t always flattering and the dance moves are elementary. The reviewed performance had several miking and sound balance problems. But the knockout six-piece band, under the direction of Michelle Gray, really makes this music sing.
If you’re a Baby Boomer, you’ll love spending time in “Smokey Joe’s Café.” And at any age, if you dig early pop and R&B, you’ll rock out, too.
©2018 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews