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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Is Fresh And Sassy

TheatreWorks opens their 33rd season with the high octane, Tony-nominated, Grammy Award winning musical review Smokey Joe’s Cafe, with the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The review enjoyed a five year run at the Virginia Theatre in New York and many regional companies are now presenting the jazzy review. We saw the original in New York several years ago and I have always considered it one of the best reviews of the '90s.

The TheatreWorks production is sheer Broadway pizzazz and just as good as what we saw on Broadway several years ago. In fact, due to the intimacy of the Mountain View Performing Arts Center, it seeMs. much more audience pleasing. There is enough energy coming from this talented cast to electrify a whole city. It is a non-stop razzle dazzle review that never falters during the two hour (with intermission) run time.

I agree with the New York Post when it said “rush, don’t just run” to this celebration of the songwriting team that was instrumental in establishing rock ‘n’ roll, whose works have been immortalized by Elvis Presley, Big Mama Thornton, the Coasters and Peggy Lee. The audience has a ball listening and toe tapping to such numbers as “Yakety Yak,” Charlie Brown,” “Jail House Rock” and “On Broadway.”

All company members have strong, crowd pleasing voices. It is tough to pick a standout performance since all of the members of nine member cast are radiant; there are many solo, duet and group singing performances that brim with energy and excitement.

Bobby Kaye brings a beautiful voice that is extraordinary and versatile. He is outstanding in the show-stopping “I (Who Have Nothing),” where his voice goes from a serenade to growling. He is also great in “D.W. Washburn.” Kyra Da Costa heats up the stage with her arousing charm while sensually writhing around a straight chair in “Don Juan” and later in “Some Cats Know.” Daniel Keeling and Carleton Alexander are two of the most magnetic performers with mellow voices.

Nicole Ruth Snelson, who originated the role of Winnie Tate in the recent revival of Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway, is a standout singer. She especially shines in a rendition of “Falling” and her duet with Kyra in “Trouble.” Gary E. Vincent sent chills up my spine when he hit those bass notes in some of the quartet numbers. Jennifer Allen really cuts loose in her rendition of “Pearl’s A Singer.” C. Kelly Wright, a regular at TheatreWorks, and young talent Erwin G. Urbi are charismatic performers with Ms. Wright doing a great rendition of “Hound Dog” and Mr. Urbi showing some great moves in dancing and singing.

Other great highlights are the “Jailhouse Rock” number and the wonderful quartet number of “Keep on Rollin'” by Bobby, Carelton, Daniel and Gary.

The direction and choreography by Linda Goodrich is solid gold. Carlton Alexander is particularly first rate as a dancer in “Spanish Harlem.” The seven piece rock band led by Tom Lindblade and William Liberatore on the left side of the stage are really in the groove. Costumes by Ardith Ann Gray are hip.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe runs through July 14 at the Mountain View Performing Arts Center. Call 650-903-6000 for tickets or visit www.theatreworks.org. Their next production will be Anne Weisman’s comedy Be Aggressive, which starts on July 17.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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