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Theater Review: “Smokey Joe’s Café"

“Smokey Joe’s Café” runs through March 17, 2019 at New Village Arts, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad.
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

There’s a time for serious, brain-engaging theater, and there’s a time for classic comedies. But if you’re in the mood to sit back, relax and listen to the music of a generation, get on over to New Village Arts for the bouncy goings-on in “Smokey Joe’s Café.”

Joe isn’t there, but no matter: New Village Arts has assembled a terrific cast of nine fine singer/dancers and a boffo stage band of six to put across some 37 songs by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Choreographer Michael Mizerany contributed some great doo-wop moves, as well as other, more athletic numbers.

Leiber and Stoller met and started writing songs together in 1950, when both were 17. They’ve been cranking out pop hits ever since. Many of them eventually ended up in “Smokey Joe’s Café,” which opened in 1995 and became the longest-running original musical revue on Broadway, running nearly five years.

Anyone of a certain age will remember novelty songs like “Yakety Yak” (wherein mom lays down the law) and “Charlie Brown” (“Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?”) as well as real standards like “Jailhouse Rock,” “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand by Me.” They’re not all great, but they’re all here, plus 30 or so more.

The song “Neighborhood” opens the show, introducing the cast and band (which is nestled in one corner of the stage).

There’s no plot to write about, though director Tony Houck writes in the program that he wanted to add some dialogue to give the show some semblance of story. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a glitch in the sound system the night I was there and I couldn’t catch many of the words.

But never mind, when you have Eboni Muse in the cast, wailing away on songs like “Saved,” you won’t worry about plot.

Jasmine January goes to town on “Don Juan,” which explains why the Don lost his girlfriend. January is new to me. She and another newcomer to me, Philip David Mark, who has a rich bass voice I’d be happy to hear again, amuse on “You’re the Boss.”

Four of the men (Philip David Black, Kevin “Blax” Burroughs, Isaac Kalimo and Kyle Leatherbury have a good time on “There Goes My Baby.”

Trevor Park  – also a gifted dancer – takes the stage for “Ruby Baby” and goes to town on “Jailhouse Rock.”

Melissa Fernandes – always a joy to listen to – lost her voice the night I was there, so I didn’t get my Melissa Fix. But don’t fret, the voice has recovered.

Houck does double duty as musical director, leading the fine musicians as well as directing the show.

And the women in the audience will be thrilled when the four women do “I’m a Woman.” Let’s hear it for womyn power!

It’s not Shakespeare, but “Smokey Joe’s Café” surely provides an entertaining evening in the theater.

The details

“Smokey Joe’s Café” runs through March 17, 2019 at New Village Arts, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or www.newvillagearts.org