"Smokey Joe’s Café" at the IU Auditorium is fine opportunity for a spirited look back at the wonderful Lieber and Stoller songs from the fifties and the sixties. In a fully packed two hour evening there are forty pieces with the well known hits and some that deserve to be better known. The show features classic comic quartet pieces like "Poison Ivy" and "Yakety Yak," tender ballads like "There Goes My Baby" and "Spanish Harlem" and flat out ravers like "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock."
A very talented nine-ember cast that acted and danced as well as it sang put on a very successful show. I’m especially fond of the quartet pieces and "Smokey Joe’s Café" has a very accomplished and funny group in Terry Daniels, EJ Griffon, Mark Hall and Chris Sams. Through the evening each of them had solid solo spots. The group both saluted and satirized the choreography of those quartets. EJ Griffon is a master comic and drew laughs through the evening.
‘Smokey Joe’s Café" also boasts a strong female trio. Mekia Cox was masterful in ensemble pieces and in her man-critical solos. She waves a mean boa. Laurie Taylor was very enjoyable in her duet work with Mekia and her own solos. She can throw a mean shimmy. Kate McCann was a strong member of many scenes and had her own memorable numbers. Nova Payton had the role of the "hot mama" with a powerful voice that seemed to have no limit to how loud or how long a note could be held. There may be a couple of her notes still ringing in the Auditorium this morning.
Jason Shuffler was the young man who wants to learn to shimmy from Laurie Taylor and was featured in "Ruby Baby" and "Jailhouse Rock."
The staging throughout "Smokey Joe’s Café" was varied. The sets and the lighting seemed to have a life of their own that contributed to the pacing and forward motion.
"Smokey Joe’s Café" is a delightful way to revisit some great songs. The variety also reminds us of a very seminal time in American music when new sounds were appearing but the links to rhythmn and blues, gospel, country and the ballad styles of the thirties and forties were all very much parts of the mix.
"Smokey Joe’s Café" has its final performance this evening at eight in the IU Auditorium.
This review and an interview with cast member Jason Shuffler along with other interviews and theatre and film reviews are on our George Walker’s Arts Interviews page.