Smokey Joe’s Cafe
For the next few weeks The Pasadena Playhouse will be the "hottest joint in town" as they present "Smokey Joe’s Cafe," a musical tribute to legendary songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. This radiant rock ’n’ roll celebration is jam packed with close to 40 classic hits that are guaranteed to have you dancing in your seat. The talented cast and undeniably impressive set list presents us with a musical revue that playfully hits all the right notes.
Leiber and Stoller met in Los Angeles in 1950; by the time they were 20-years-old they had written their first number one hit. As a dedicated team, they continued to crank out chart toppers during their lengthy careers. "Smokey Joe’s Cafe" is chock full of some of their greatest hits, with classics like "Love Potion #9," "Spanish Harlem," "Yakety Yak," "Jailhouse Rock," Hound Dog," "Stand By Me" and many, many more. These tunes are timeless, we all grew up listening to them, or had parents who listened to them, and everyone in attendance will be touched by the music of these brilliant songwriters.
The list of songs that makes up the performance cover a broad spectrum. There are vintage rock ’n’ roll hits, Elvis classics, gospel numbers, sexy ballads and pretty much everything in between. What theatregoers will not find is a cohesive storyline; nothing ties the songs together and it is important to understand this going in because you might find yourself distracted from the music as you search for an overlaying theme that simply is not there. Think of it as numerous one-act plays (39 to be exact) brought together to honor the work of these two men: nothing more, nothing less.
Director Jeffrey Polk does a fine job of leading his powerful performers through this musical journey. There are no gimmicks, no elaborate sets or costumes. The show carries itself on the music and has no problem soaring through the evening.
The cast consists of nine actors/singers who all shine on stage. Adrianna Rose Lyons delivers a performance as memorable and fiery as the flame colored coiffure on her head. She was as convincing portraying a love-struck girl in "Falling" as she was playing the sexy temptress in "Trouble." And she completely won the audience over when she shimmied her heart out during ’Teach Me How to Shimmy." This performance marks her debut at The Playhouse and her youth and energy brought the musical numbers to life.
Another standout was Kyra Little Da Costa, who played the part of a sexy siren all too well. Her empowering renditions of "Don Juan" and "Some Cats Know" were performed with a bright red boa and a metal chair, these simple props, coupled with her strong vocals, were all she needed to seduce the crowd.
The audience fell in love with Lavance Colley, who belted out "I (Who Have Nothing)" with such passion and emotion that it brought the audience to their feet in the only standing ovation of the night. A veteran of the field, Colley has sung background vocals for such greats as Diana Ross, so he feels at home on the stage, which came through in his performance.
The rest of the cast is made up by Thomas Hobson, Stu Jones, Monique L. Midgette, Robert Neary, Michael A. Shepard and Carly Thomas Smith, and they all do their part in rounding out a truly spectacular ensemble.
The orchestra, who join the cast on stage in the second act, are great as well. They provide the actors with the musical backdrop to perform the songs the way they were meant to. Together they ignite a treasured period of American history taking you on a truly remarkable musical experience, one you won’t want to miss.
"Smokey Joe’s Cafe" runs through Oct. 13 at The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Avenue, in Pasadena. For tickets and information, call 626-356-7529 or visit http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.