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Review | Smokey Joe's Cafe

'Smokey Joe's Cafe' seduces with a mix of musical genres

Phillip Lamar Boykin, left, and Regina Fernandez perform in the Leiber and Stoller musical revue Smokey Joe’s Cafe, running through Sept. 21 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson.

BUD THACKER | Special to the Times

Phillip Lamar Boykin, left, and Regina Fernandez perform in the Leiber and Stoller musical revue Smokey Joe’s Cafe, running through Sept. 21 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson.

Sometimes you'll be watching a musical and you'll think to yourself, "Wow. That one number was worth the price of the ticket."

That happens over and over during Smokey Joe's Cafe, the musical revue with words and music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the undisputed kings just plain ol' fun songs — Charlie Brown, Yakety Yak, Hound Dog, Little Egypt and classics that bring tears or laughs.

The duo's songs sound like soul, rock, pop, ballad and gospel, but listen closely, and you'll see that sometimes less really is more. Leiber and Stoller skim the surface of deep emotion and have a heck of a lot of fun doing it.

That's one big reason the cast and crew doing Smokey Joe's at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre through Sept. 21 can have so much fun with each number. Many lend themselves to caricature (Dance With Me, There Goes My Baby); others are smooth and easygoing (Neighborhood, Love Me, Don't); and still others can be made into comedy skits (Shoppin' For Clothes, D.W. Washburn, Saved).

Whatever comes up in this Broadway record-setter, the nine top-notch performers, Michael Ursua's five-piece combo, Tom Hansen's light and set designs and Katie Kerwin's direction and choreography do indeed (to paraphrase the composers) treat 'em nice.

The quartet of Timothe Bittle, Phillip Lamar Boykin, Jason Goodson and Davron S. Monroe take command of the entire building early on with the spirited Keep on Rollin' that segues into a comic Searchin' and, later, Poison Ivy, and still later, blossoms into the incomparable On Broadway that simply begs for an encore. And another encore. And perhaps another. What a song. What performances.

That muscular, masculine feel is leavened by a gorgeous Regina Fernandez, who drips sexuality and style in a short black dress as she drags a long red feather boa across the stage, perches precariously on a red bistro chair and sneers at a Don Juan who got his come-uppance at her skilled hands. She's equally effective in the second act's mocking Some Cats Know about guys who get it and guys who don't, paired with Boykin in the sensuous You're the Boss and, earlier, with the terrific singer/dancer Tiffany Lutz in a sizzling Trouble.

Ms. Lutz is a knockout as a table-top dancer in the high-energy Teach Me How to Shimmy.

Making a triumphant return to her hometown after a national tour in Arthur, Live!, Sara DelBeato uses her husky voice to deliver soulful blues from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. Ms. DelBeato's staccato I Keep Forgettin' snaps, crackles and pops; her languid Pearl's a Singer turns into a gut-wrenching wail, rounded off with a disdainful shrug.

Soul singer Illeana Kirven's bell-clear sound, long notes and all-out delivery could shatter the glasses on the back row and probably appeals more to connoisseurs of soul than to the easy-listenin' crowd, but everyone could agree that her emotional take on Fools Fall in Love is a unique experience. And she's just plain fun doing Hound Dog the way the composers wrote it.

The men get their individual moments in the sun, Boykin as a playful Charlie Brown, Monroe in the heart-breaking I (Who Have Nothing), Eric Jon Mahlum in a rather white bread Jailhouse Rock, and smooth crooner Goodson in both Loving You and Spanish Harlem.

A shining moment of the show is the penultimate number, Bittle's beautiful Stand By Me, when the tall, handsome singer/dancer stands alone in the spotlight calling for camaraderie as his fellow performers trickle on stage to join him and bring the sentiment to the audience.

It is so moving that it takes the rollicking finale, Baby, That is Rock & Roll, to break the spell enough for the audience to get up and go home.

Many of them, however, were saying they'd be back for more.

>>Fast facts

If you go

Smokey Joe's Cafe, matinees and evenings through Sept. 21 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson. Dinner and show, $44; show only, $32.95; ages 12 and younger, $26.45 and $21.45, all plus tax and tip. Call (727) 863-7949 in west Pasco; toll-free elsewhere at 1-888-655-7469.

'Smokey Joe's Cafe' seduces with a mix of musical genres 08/02/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 2, 2008 1:27pm]
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