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SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE is now open at Broadway By The Bay, celebrating the superb songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Nine astonishing performers bring the songs to life. The classics are now hopping and spinning through June 18th at the Fox Theatre in Downtown Redwood City. The two songwriters songbook of 39 pop standards are highlighted – rock and roll, rhythm-and-blues classics by the foolproof hit-making team of the 1950s and ’60’s. Leiber and composer Stoller created all classics; SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE is a mix of the great scores of the 20th century.

The Tony Award-nominee and Grammy Award-winner show which opened in New York in 1995 became the longest running musical revue in Broadway history. The crowds kept the Cafe open from 1995, running for five years or 2,036 performances. A song and dance musical set in the 1950’s, Smokey Joe’s Cafe carries the themes of love, life and togetherness.

Gifted director Brandon Jackson said “Lieber and Stoller may not be a household names, especially among fans of musical theatre, but their impact on American popular music is more than worthy of its own celebratory revue. What I enjoy most about this revue is the diverse collection of musical genres and traditions that are represented. Audiences will quickly hear the many other musical forms the famous duo were strongly influenced by, such as blues, R&B, swing, jazz, and gospel to name a few.”

Its likable jukebox appeal resides in its music. The songs range from ballads "I Keep Forgetting” or “I Who Have Nothing", to rock classics "Hound Dog", to gospel "Saved", to easy listening anthems "Stand by Me". The powerful company of nine performers including Chris Aceves (Michael), Jessica Coker (BJ), Anthone Jackson (Adrian), Janelle LaSalle (Brenda), Cadarious Mayberry (Victor), Montel Nord (Ken), Anthony Rollins-Mullens (Fred), Majesty Scott (Pattie), and Cheyenne Wells (DeLee) who all blast out almost 40 songs. They are all flat out superb singers and dancers. As solo individuals each performer brings something special and distinctive to the Cafe and the excited audience; they are all a pleasure to watch.

Director Jackson keeps the cast moving. Choreographer, Camille Edralin, kept the more pop tunes “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog” on the high step and the nine singers are all keen dancers. The songs serve as the soundtrack to the lives of an entire generation. While most musicals create memories, "Smokey Joe's Café" taps existing ones and, by doing so, forms an immediate and intimate connection with the baby boomers and Gen X audience, also the millennials in the busy crowd at the Fox Theatre can’t help but be swept away with the songs.

Superb Music director, Sean Kana is perched on a rolling piano that the cast moves downstage as Kana brings the passion out of the songs and sings with the cast in “Stay a While”. His on stage band include the lively Danny Min (bass), Steve Cassinelli (guitar) Ken Bergmann (drums), and Larry DeLaCruz (saxophone). Kelly James Tighe’s clever and exquisite set design keeps the the band on stage in Joe’s Cafe. It was nice to see the band with the company as the two hour show flew by.

Tighe’s set also included some classy street lights for the thrilling song “For I Am A Woman” and “There Goes My Baby”. But the highlights are the rafters that take the players above the band and adds the open space to the city effect of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”. Aaron Spivey’s compelling light design incorporates the set with wonderful colored fluorescent tubes of lights that frame the large space to give it a warm intimate feel.

The standard jukebox musicals explore the life and times of the actual folks who created their songs, the way "Jersey Boys" tells the story of the The Four Seasons and how "Beautiful" is all about Carol King. In "Smokey Joe's Café," Leiber and Stoller are not mentioned in the production, and many didn’t know they authored these songs, and they never performed their own music. But the shear bond the cast has with the music and songs brings each one a story to tell on stage.

Many standout highlights of the nine performers include the pitch perfect Cadarious Mayberry who belted out all his songs including the hits “Treat Me Nice” and “I Who Have Nothing”. The magnetic Majesty Scott owns the stage as she sings “Pearl’s a Singer” and duets with the Anthone Jackson on a mix of “Love Me” and “Don’t.” Aceves who is also the dance captain for the cast, is featured in a very clever "Jail House Rock" and his voice is excellent.

More importantly, the players gel as a collective group, performing Edralin’s creative dance/song-specific period-appropriate choreography with incredible precision and energy, and selling each musical number as if their lives depended on it. Local favorite Anthony Rollins-Mullens and his amazing deep baritone bring his many solos that savvy touch in “Keep On Rolling”, “You’re The Boss, and the show stopping “On Broadway” with the guys Jackson, Mayberry, and the excellent Montel Anthony Nord.

The vibrant Jessica Coker brings the house down with her two solos “Fools Fall In Love” and “Hound Dog” with her pitch perfect powerhouse voice. “Teach Me How To Shimmy” is a delight featuring the accomplished Chris Aceves, the commanding voice of Cheyenne Wells. The sharp Majesty Scott is excellent in her solo “I Keep Forgetting”. The able Janelle LaSalle is charming in her wonderful classic “Don Juan”. Wells is also featured in “I Am Women” with Coker, Scott and LaSalle who all deliver these songs to the sell out opening weekend crowd who cheered for many of the 39 songs.

photos by Mark & Tracy Photography

The costumes by Leandra Watson include stylish loafers and sweaters for the men, skirts and dresses for the women. Colorful scarves and heels, I was most charmed by the formal wear for the men in the second act. Lexie Lazear created the wigs and make up for the company and brings that swagger to the Cafe. Justin Halsey-Martin’s props and Spivey’s colorful moody lighting design help to open up two hours of memories.

The fact that their is no story line or arc, can make the show seem long. These songs are not just a time capsule, their lyrics and message resonate today more than ever. Stories of lost love, female empowerment and changing neighborhoods are still relevant. Get to the Cafe soon, this is a sure sell out and just sit back and enjoy the concert like roll of the 39 songs, this musical will win you over.

Broadway by The Bay Presents


The Songs of Leiber and Stroller

Words and Music by

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Directed by Brandon Jackson

Music Director Sean Kana

Closes June 18th

Historic Fox Theatre in Redwood City

2215 Broadway Street

Running Time 2 hours with an intermission

All photos by Mark & Tracy Photography


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