Thursday, July 26, 2012
Theater review: Smokey Joe’s Cafe at Addison Theatre Center
WaterTower’s continued excellence is promising for theatre all over Dallas.
If tight harmonies, flashy lights and great dancing are what you’re looking for in entertainment, see Smokey Joe’s Café (presented by WaterTower Theatre at Addison Theatre Center through August 12). The most successful musical revue in Broadway history is currently happening at the WaterTower and is definitely worth seeing. From start to finish the audience laughs and claps along in shared elation.
The hallmark of Smokey Joe’s Café is the storytelling. Short romances, heartbreaks and fantasies play out, using the music of Leiber and Stoller as a backdrop. Songs like “Yakety Yak,” “Fools Fall in Love,” “D. W. Washburn,” and “Saved” are all demonstrations on how to present a tale in a short period while captivating an audience. However, I feel some opportunities are missed with “Fools Fall in Love.” Too much emphasis is placed on Carter’s lament about not being in love. The point that she has just fallen in love herself is missed, except in the lyrics.
Clare Floyd DeVries’ set for Smokey Joe’s Café has many great performance levels as well as a wide open floor space to allow for some great dancing. The first impression is that of an old night club with a neon sign over the stage. Of course neon is expensive and WaterTower Theatre opts for LED string lights, but the effect is the just as charming.
For most of the show, the band is hidden behind a scrim. Finally, at the top of the second act, they are set free as the scrim rises and their stage is thrust forward to the delight of the audience. The band plays great throughout the show but is allowed to shine when a few are given an opportunity to play solo in the second act. Too soon though, they are shoved back into their hiding space and unseen until the end of the show.
The lighting design by David Natinsky is the technical star of Smokey Joe’s Café. A virtual rainbow of colors and projections fly across the stage and backdrop throughout the performance. It is dazzling. The lights are, of course, appropriate for the scene. Not all scenes require wild, dance club style lighting, and the low, subdued lighting in songs like “Pearl’s a Singer” and “Spanish Harlem” does a lot to enhance the mood of the more intimate songs. However, the spotlight operators need more practice. There is nothing worse than being jolted out of a scene by a bad spotlight cue.
John de los Santos’ choreography is amazing. His work in Smokey Joe’s Café is the best choreography I have seen all year. There’s a lot of the expected “quartet choreography” that people think of when they remember the groups of the late '50s/early '60s. Performances like those in “Saved,” “On Broadway,” and “Keep on Rollin’/Searchin’,” not to mention teaching Courtney Sikora how to shimmy, impress the audience with the abilities of the performers. De los Santos doesn’t make the choreography easy on his performers but he gets fantastic results which the audience adores.
All of the performers do fantastic jobs. Steve Barcus is a suave character who could easily step into the role of Huey Calhoun in Memphis the Musical. The homage to Elvis Pressley in “Jailhouse Rock” excites the audience and being able to shake and jive while holding his notes in “Teach Me How to Shimmy” earns him deserved applause.
Feleceia Benton is the alpha female of the show. She’s sultry in “You’re the Boss” and “Some Cats Know”; she’s humorous and elegant in “Don Juan” and she’s the powerful instigator of “I’m a Woman.” Her performance is strong and fun.
Laura Lites brings her sexy, smooth, smoky voice to the WaterTower Theatre stage and it is wonderful. Although it starts out slow, her heartfelt rendition of “Pearl’s a Singer” makes the audience feel bad for Pearl and her failed singing career.
Calvin S. Roberts and Walter Lee, along with their stunning voices, are the best physical actors in the show. Lee’s drunken portrayal of “D. W. Washburn,” as well as his sunken posture and facial expressions while being dressed down in “Hound Dog” are hilarious touches. Seeing Roberts wiggle and squirm through “Poison Ivy,” go from being rejected to the rejecter in “Dance with Me,” and portray the infamous Charlie Brown is a delight.
Maurice Verrett Johnson provides the baseline for the harmonies in the show. He also moves well. Johnson is an excellent addition to any performance he is in. He’s always fun to watch, adding little elements of character to songs like “Yakety Yak” where he gives the immortal line “Don’t talk back.” He’s also featured in “Little Egypt,” “You’re the Boss,” and “Shoppin’ for Clothes.”
Akron Watson has already had a successful career and will only go up from here. In “There Goes My Baby,” he shows off his humorous side, pleading with the audience to help him find her. Then he leads the guys in “Love Potion #9.” Watson keeps the audience bopping along.
Chimberly Carter Byrom and Courtney Sikora are both wonderful performers who round out the show well. I love seeing Carter berate Walter Lee in “Hound Dog” and she tears up the scene in the Act I finale, “Saved.” Sikora dances like a manic clothes washer to John de los Santos’ choreography in “Teach Me How to Shimmy” and shows off her vocal skills in “I’m a Woman.”
I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of WaterTower Theatre' Smokey Joe’s Café. WaterTower’s continued excellence is promising for theatre all over Dallas. I recommend you go see this show.
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