"Smokey Joe’s Café"
Downtown Cabaret Theatre, Bridgeport
“Smokey Joe’s Café” is back in town, holding forth at Downtown Cabaret Theatre and offering a range of the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller pop tunes. This gifted song-writing team would go on during their careers to bring the rock-and-roll genre to a new level. And now, the Cabaret revue, featuring nine performers and a six-piece band, covers the gamut. The material ranges from rhythm and blues songs to ballads to rock and roll numbers. These songs of the ‘50s and early ‘60s offer any Cabaret fans of the baby-boomer generation a satisfying backward look into their own era. It also provides a happy new experience for their children.
Though not earth-shaking or innovative, this particular production does bring theatergoers together for a good-natured evening of lively escapist entertainment. It is a comfortable setting where friends, armed with food and drink, can gather around the tables and socialize, while they tap out the familiar tunes. And in fact, the show, under Donna Daniels’ direction, pulls the audience into the action, as Daniels sends the singers out into the audience. These singers, with their admirable credentials in the rhythm and blues world, give the listeners a good run for their money.
Each of the singers--Gnomiagre, Pete Marshall, Fredi (Silk) Black, Larry Stephen Hines, Scott Praefke, Kelley Bradshaw, Jerrial Young, Allie Schauer, Roca) gets a solo, his or her moment in the sun. With solid help from their mikes, the voices ripple across the room. But, unfortunately, the band too often drowns the voices, and the lyrics (well worthy of consideration) are lost. The softer ballads come across best, providing a nice contrast to the raucous numbers. Highlights among them are “Spanish Harlem” (with Larry Hines and Gnomiagre) and “Fools Fall in Love” (with Roca). Gnomiagre (yes, one name!) is a joy to watch in all her numbers as she moves about, with every move sending forth a sexual message.
The show ends on a strong note, almost gospel in style, as the audience joins the performers and beats out the rhythm. It sends viewers out into the night, we suspect, with a strong inner glow.
-- Irene Backalenick
March 16, 2009