You’ll Love Smokey Joe’s Café at Ivoryton Playhouse

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By Karen Isaacs

If you don’t tap your feet watching Smokey Joe’s Café at Ivoryton, check to see if you have a pulse. The show which runs through Sunday, July 31 delivers high-powered entertainment.

This is a top-notch production directed and choreographed by Todd L. Underwood of the successful Broadway award-winning review of the songs of Lieber and Stoller.  Even if you don’t recall their names, you certainly will know their songs – everything from “Fools Fall in Love” to “On Broadway,” “I Am Woman,” and “Hound Dog” among hundreds of others.

First, Underwood has done a terrific job casting the show. The nine men and women each put across one or more solo numbers while working smoothly as an ensemble. In addition, each can dance. It is difficult to single out just one or two, but Debra Thais Evans has to be mentioned for her superb renditions of “Fools Fall in Love” and “Hound Dog.”  In “Dance with Me” she is joined by Warren Nolan, Jr. and other cast members to add subtle humor to the number.

But let’s not forget Tiffany Frances with “Don Juan” and the duet with Cameron Loyal of “You’re the Boss.” Then there’s Carteze Tucker who is outstanding in “Searchin;’” Joseph Castro – terrific “Jailhouse Rock;”  Elvie Ellis in “There Goes My Baby;” Cameron Loyal who with Nolan does a great “Stay a While.”  Loyal also has that typical ‘50s bass sound in some of the numbers. That’s not to say that Sandra Marante and Gabriella Saramago don’t have their moments – Marante particularly in “Trouble” and Saramago with “I Keep Forgettin’”.

The nine-member cast is backed up by six musicians.

While no sound designer is listed, the balance of sound was excellent between the performers and the musicians. It also captured the essence of rock ‘n roll without blasting you out of your seats. It is always a joy to be able to clearly hear the lyrics.

Cully Long did the scenic design – the set is flexible; is it the stoop and outside of a store or is it the inside? It doesn’t matter because it has great detail and props plus is appropriately flexible. I also thought Elizabeth Saylor did a great job with the costumes. It opens with casual clothes but in the second half, it is more ‘50s formal including terrific blue sequined jackets for the men. They elicited oohs and aahs from the opening night audience.

Putting this all together seamlessly were music director Mike Moris and director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood. Underwood kept movement in the show setting up interesting juxtapositions of performers. At times, the choreography fell back on hip gyrations and pelvic thrusts. It made the choreography seem repetitive. But a highlight were some of the group numbers, from the opening “Neighborhood” and the guys in multiple songs.

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller have had their songs recorded by not only iconic rock ‘n’ roll and blues performers but everyone from Edith Piaf and Peggie Lee to County Basie, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin and hundreds of others. They were major forces in pop music, rock, and rhythm and blues from the ‘50s through the ‘70s. Part of their appeal was their ability to take teenage slang and more classic pop music style lyrics and combine them with these other genres.  In addition, as record producers  — for their own companies( Daisy and Redbird) and, Atlantic Records and as independent producers — they contributed to the success of numerous artists. Their honors included induction into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and international awards

This is a perfect entertainment – nostalgic, upbeat, well done and thoroughly enjoyable. Make it a point to see it.

For tickets visit IvorytonPlayhouse.org.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com

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