Smokey Joe's Cafe

By Megan McDonald January 11, 2012

Venice Theatre's Smokey Joey's Cafe is a rockin' good time.

They’re rockin’ and rollin’ over at Venice Theatre with the Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller show Smokey Joe’s Cafe, and no matter what your age, you should find yourself rockin’ and rollin’ along with them.

I’ve seen this revue of the songwriting duo’s work several times before, but this production, blessed with a cast of strong voices, excellent music direction by Michelle Kasanofsky and assured staging by Brad Wages, is certainly one of the best. From the moment the actors begin to assemble on the stage to the wistful sounds of Neighborhood, you know you can settle in for an evening of great entertainment and memories.

That song is the perfect way to introduce this collection of tunes from the ’50s and ’60s, nearly 40 in all, by the team responsible for many of Elvis Presley’s biggest hits, as well as a slew of Top 40 treasures by such groups as the Coasters and the Drifters. It sets us up for the nostalgic look back, but the crucial thing about Smokey Joe’s Cafe is that, thanks in part to the energy of the cast and in part to the songs themselves, the numbers come across as fresh, never dated.

I found the songs featuring the show’s line-up of male singers, with their careful harmonies, especially fun when paired with Wages’ choreography, which is spot on. They move seamlessly from the lighter numbers, like Poison Ivy and Charlie Brown, to more straight ones, like On Broadway, where they’re all decked out with snazzy suits, shades and moves. Each also gets a chance to shine individually. Just to single out a few: Kristofer Geddie, all high-pitched silliness on Treat Me Nice and later full of passion on I Who Have Nothing; Albert Jennings, poignant on Spanish Harlem; Jared Walker on Ruby Baby; Edwin Watson, paired with Tatum Harvey on a steamy You’re the Boss; and Brandon Michael Fleming, leading us into the anthemic Stand By Me.

But that’s certainly not to ignore the women in the show, who are equally as good. Again, I’ll just pick some standouts: how about Colleen Sudduth and Harvey as sexy women in red on Trouble; or Melissa Cripps socking the hell out of Pearl’s a Singer; or Syreeta Banks, ringing the Act One curtain down with the gospel number Saved or breaking hearts with Fools Fall in Love? Or indeed, all of them together on the big hit, I’m a Woman? Even musical director Kasanofsky gets in on the act with a sultry rendition of Stay a While that makes you wish she’d do more vocalizing onstage.

Thanks to Wages’ sure hand at the helm, the talents of Kasanofsky and her orchestra, the fine work of the cast, and, oh, yes, some eye-catching costumes by Nicholas Hartman (love those corals, blues and purples on the ladies), Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a pleasure to watch, listen to and recommend. It’s onstage through Jan. 29; call 488-1115 or go to

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