Theater snobs — er, geeks — love to indulge in insults of the musical revue genre, with its lack of plot and character development, and often weak structure. It’s truly good sport.
But sometimes a musical revue comes along like this — a production with enough talent and verve that even the most cold-hearted of stage cynics thaw, if only a little.
The cast of Smokey Joe’s Café embody pure joy on stage, rocking Alhambra Theatre & Dining with a genius collected here from New York to D.A.
The tunes are those of Leiber and Stoller — and I’ll refrain from making an ageist crack by saying simply that both men were born in 1933. Much of their music has stood the test of time, however, from “Hound Dog” to “Stand By Me” and “Jailhouse Rock” to “Fools Fall in Love.”
Zoë Kassay, who’s drawn raves in these pages before, energizes the Alhambra stage again. She and Dayna Richardson exude power and playfulness during “Trouble” midway through Act I, drawing more than a few hollers from a gala night crowd.
“I really feel like Dayna and I connected so well in ‘Trouble,’” Kassay told Folio Weekly Magazine in an interview during opening week. “In Smokey Joe’s Cafe, there has been the whole Broadway production, and there’s been tons more performances. But these actors in this show have taken it and made it their own.”
Kassay, who flew in again from New York City for this role as she did for 9 to 5: The Musical last year, embraces a more physical role on stage than she’s accustomed to. She acquitted herself, shimmying with the best of them in “Teach Me How to Shimmy” and hitting her marks in the more intricate “Spanish Harlem” with Alex Jorth. Michael Lomeka earns exaltations as well for the strong choreography here and throughout.
Richardson displays truly transcendent stage presence in corralling a particularly rebellious “Don” out of a seat in the front row for “Don Juan.” Her sultry voice proves enough of a match for Don, who seems to be having enough fun to almost be a plant, until he forgets his chair on stage. He’s whipped into shape later by the sweet Katie Nettle.
But it’s when you first see Sarah Sanders in the cast list or on stage and you know her alter ego that you fully understand the depth of a musical cast that must be making director Tod Booth giddy. The soulful blues and jazz singer known as Mama Blue, a
homegrown star from local arts public school stalwart Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, adds power and wicked personality to her turns in “Fools Fall in Love” and “Hound Dog.”
The humor and charisma that Sanders, Kassay and Richardson bring to those small moments push Smokey Joe’s Café beyond the normal revue standard, with strong backing from the players of the Double Trouble Show Band.
The costumes and sets are simple but effective. In past shows, a few flubs on the sound have been reported here, but on this gala night, they performed flawlessly.
No shame in the male cast not having quite the star power as their counterparts. They rendered more effective performances together in the well-choreographed “Keep On Rollin’” and “Poison Ivy” than in “Little Egypt.”
Kassay says she loves “watching the boys all together on stage,” with some special praise for one castmate.
“I can’t ever take my eyes off Michael Wordly. He has a voice,” Kassay says. “‘Stand By Me’ — I melt. His voice and his energy
are so good.”
Fans of these classics might have their tickets already. Theater junkies who usually eschew a musical revue should take a second look here for, if nothing else, pure talent.