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Smokey Joe’s Cafe
a Musical Revue
by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

COMPANY : New African Grove Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 5156

SHOWING : October 05, 2017 - October 22, 2017



Leiber and Stoller, as much as anyone, virtually invented rock ’n’ roll, and now their songs provide the basis for an electrifying entertainment that illuminates a golden age of American culture. In an idealized ’50’s setting, the classic themes of love won, lost and imagined blend with hilarious set-pieces and slice-of-life emotions. Featuring nearly 40 of the greatest songs ever recorded, SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE isn’t just great pop music - it’s compelling musical theatre. Join us as we present this wonderful evening of entertainment!

Michael Terry Pendleton
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Talent X 8
by playgoer
Monday, October 23, 2017
What do you need to produce a revue of popular songs? A cast with good voices. Good production values (costumes, lighting, choreography). Good accompaniment, appropriately balanced with the voices. The production of "Smokey Joe’s Cafe" by Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square and the New African Grove Theatre Company has all of these. Sound was a bit of an issue at the performance I attended, with crackling of microphones and uneven sound levels for the singers at the start and with some distortion in the second act as the singers blasted out their signature solos, but the issues were minor and not pervasive.

The set, designed by Michael Snoddy, is a pretty simple affair. Five individual brick-painted panels are arranged on the stage, with a porch and stoop stage right and a bar on a circular platform up left. The main portion of the stage is left clear, with chairs occasionally brought in for individual numbers. Emil Thomas’ lighting design uses a variety of schemes to light the stage uniquely for each number, with an emphasis on a red spotlight.

Costumes, uncredited in the program, vary from cast member to cast member. Only in "Jailhouse Rock" do all the singers wear matching striped T-shirts. Winnie Mae Washington (B.J.) has the largest selection of outfits, most quite fetching, followed by Karnia Lake (Brenda), who looks smashing in all hers. Everyone has a variety of looks that work for their various songs.

Choreography, by Indya Bussey-Starr and Kendrick Love, Sr., features a lot of three-man backup dancers for all-male numbers. There are also a few numbers that show off the tap/ballet dancing skills of Janna Koffman (Delee) and the silkily smooth movements of Ms. Lake. All the men do a good job dancing: strong tenor Bryan Perez (Ken), basso profundo Jonathan Blanchard (Fred), lithe George P. Roberts (Victor), and sweet-voiced Terry M. Pendleton (Michael). Full-cast numbers tend to have synchronized movement rather than dancing per se, but are pleasing to view.

In a revue, of course, the voices are what really count. Princess Starr, vocal coach, has formed the singers into an ensemble whose harmonies always ring true. Solos are excellent too, although Messrs. Perez and Roberts and Ms. Washington show a little vocal strain in their big act two solos. The biggest voice of all, though, belongs to Noelle Strong (Pattie) whose voice blasts into sound barrier-breaking territory in several numbers, in contrast to the sweet, true soprano of her voice that is featured in more restrained moments.

Director Nic Starr has worked hand-in-hand with the choreographers to add lots of interplay that sheds light on different types of relationships. Comic moments abound. This is an audience-pleasing show in which actors take on different personas for different numbers, sometimes with a complete change of costume, and sometimes with just the simple removal or donning of a pair of glasses. Mr. Starr has done well by his cast, showing them all off to advantage.

The distinction between a musical revue and a cabaret act can blend a bit, with the size of the revue cast being the most notable distinction. Most cabaret acts have live accompaniment, but here we have pre-recorded instrumental tracks from Edward C. Wright and Sheldon Beasley that work beautifully to keep singers on track in perfect synchronization. Cabaret acts require outsize personalities, and this production features one performer, Karnia Lake, who connects wonderfully with the audience in the way that the best cabaret performers do. The whole cast is good, but she’s the one I’ll be most eager to see again. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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