SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE
Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom Dual Critics, Feature, On Stage, Theatre, Theatre Reviews
ALHAMBRA THEATRE & DINING REVIEW
A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM firstname.lastname@example.org
The Alhambra Theatre and Dining presents the longest-running revue in Broadway history, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” which ran for over two thousand performances after opening in 1995. The show will be on stage at 12000 Beach Boulevard, in Jacksonville, Florida through September 4, 2016. Call 904 641-1212 for reservations or visit alhambrajax.com.
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” was created by the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who first got together back in 1950 when they were teenagers living in Los Angeles. They loved boogie and blues and began writing music together. Their collaboration continued for sixty years; both were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
One of their first early successful songs was “Hound Dog,” written for rhythm-and-blues singer Big Mama Thornton. Most of us know the song because Elvis recorded it and it was #1 on the Hit Parade for eleven weeks during 1956. Theatre-goers who are Elvis fans will be delighted with “Smokey Joe’s,” as the musical numbers include “Hound Dog,” as well as several other songs written for the King – “Trouble,” “Love Me,” “Treat Me Nice,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” In the Alhambra production, you get to hear “Hound Dog” done in its original form by Alhambra’s singer with a big mama voice, Sarah Sanders. This talented lady, a graduate of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and Jacksonville University, also closes out the first act with “Saved,” a rousing gospel number.
We probably knew at least half of the thirty-eight Leiber and Stoller songs in the show. Chart-busters included “Stand By Me,” “Kansas City,” “On Broadway,” “Charlie Brown,” “Love Potion #9,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Poison Ivy,” and “Fools Fall in Love.”
Even if you don’t recognize any of the songs, you will find this is a most entertaining show because of the nine fabulous talented performers who are capable of making anything sound great. In addition to Sarah Sanders, most recently seen at the Alhambra in “Big River,” four other performers will be familiar to you if you are an Alhambra regular.
Peter Jackson is a UNF student soon to graduate with a degree in Music in Vocal Performance. Previous favorite credits include roles at the Alhambra in “Beauty and the Beast“and “The Wiz,” as well as “Les Misérables” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar” in local community theatre. He can dance with the best of them while displaying his wonderful bass voice.
Alex Jorth was in last season’s “9 to 5.” He has been in a number of other Alhambra shows, including “Crazy for You” and “The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” where he appeared as Joseph. This handsome song and dance man is in demand at theatres throughout Florida.
Zoë Kassy is both an excellent comedian and singer and we loved her past appearances at the Alhambra as Mayzie in “Seussical,” Doralee in “9 to 5,” and Sue Ellen in “Honky Tonk Angels.” Ms. Kassy has also been a mainstage singer on Disney Cruise Line ships.
Katie Nettle is a University of Central Florida graduate whose home is now Jacksonville, with husband Jason Nettle and baby Cecily. This accomplished actress has appeared previously in a number of past Alhambra shows; roles have included Babette in “Beauty and the Beast,” Olive in “Spelling Bee,” Kitty in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and Rita in “White Christmas.”
Director/Producer Tod Booth has added four other dynamite performers to the cast who are new to the Alhambra with Dayna Richardson, David Berry, J. None, and Michael Wordly. All have impressive resumes, and terrific stage presence and voices to match.
Choreographer Michael Lomeka has created some exciting visuals on what is a bare stage most of the time. It is framed with classy metallic blue curtains, and you will feel as though you are in a Las Vegas nightclub.
Musical Director Cathy Murphy Giddens had some superb voices to work with and although most of the songs are performed by varied ensembles, all the cast members have solos.
When you see the show, pay attention to the costumes by Costume Designers Camala Pitts and Dorinda Quiles. The show moves fast and there are a lot of them; some are gorgeous while others are funny.
The music is live with the excellent Double Trouble Show Band that features Jimmy Slade (Bass), Joel Hursey & Ricky Pope (Keyboard), Scott Johnson (Saxophone), Gary Hicks (Guitar-Percussion) and John Cochran (Drums). You get to see the entire band when they are rolled out onto the stage for Act II.
Additional Production Staff includes: Patti Eyler (Stage Manager), Alex Jorth (Dance Captain), Set Designers (Dave Dionne & Ian Black), Lighting Designer (Tobias Evans), Sound Designer (Andrew Crews), Technical Director (Dave Dionne) Wig Design (Patty Pitts) and Wardrobe Supervisor (Makenzie Vaughn).
This Tony Award winning musical is one of those shows without a plot where you can just sit back, relax, look, and listen – so enjoy the great music, singing, dancing, and the many laughs.