Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Smokey Joe's Cafe"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Beverly Creasey

A Smokin’ "Smokey Joe’s"
at Turtle Lane

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

How lucky can you get? The theater season has just begun and I’ve already seen two sensational musicals. If you love the pop music of the ‘50s and’60s (and who doesn’t?) SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ is the musical that features the hits penned by Lieber and Stoller. Sometimes the Turtle Lane Playhouse hits the nail right on the head and SMOKEY JOE’S will bear witness.

The songs of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller are the stuff of legend: HOUND DOG, STAND BY ME, LOVE POTION NUMBER NINE, THERE IS A ROSE IN SPANISH HARLEM. If you don’t recognize a one of these, come out from under your rock and hurry, hurry to Turtle Lane. Director/choreographer Bruce Williams and music director Mari-Lee Mafera deliver the goods. They’re showcasing rock ‘n roll, of course, but they dramatize each story/song theatrically ---which gives the show its punch. What fun. What voices. What a ball.

The surprise for Turtle Lane regulars is Tracy Nygard. She’s a staple in TLP musicals (and a damned good one) but who knew she was a knockout rock ‘n roll performer, too? Your chin will hit the floor and your breath will leave your body in “I Keep Forgettin.” Kevane La’Marr Coleman, too, pumps enough electricity to light up the whole East Coast. Wait ‘til you see his dancing in “Spanish Harlem” followed by a ‘no time to catch his breath’ star turn in “I Who Have Nothing.”

Robin Welch gets the emblematic, show stopping “Stand By Me” and Dee Crawford chews up Richard Danehy’s scenery with a powerful, righteous “Hound Dog.” Kerri Wilson sizzles in Richard Itczak’s sexy little black dress and boa for a sassy “Don Juan” and Kimber Lynn Drake gives Itczak’s little white fringe number a workout in the “Shimmy” song, gorgeously lit by John MacKenzie.

Ben Bartolone does the Elvis pelvis in “Jailhouse Rock” and tall, tall Jon Roland rolls out his smooth, velvety bass in the funky, wonky “Little Egypt” (which has a nifty sax solo for Holly Stevenson). The band is hot. The cats know their rock ‘n roll and you’ll be hard pressed not to sing along. And you get your wish to do just that in the roof raisin’ last number! Life is good.

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" (16 September - 9 October)
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON MA
1 (617) 244-0169

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