Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Smokey Joe's Cafe
Ivoryton Playhouse
Review by Zander Opper

Also see Fred's review of Man of God

Tiffany Frances
Photo by Jonathan Steele
Ivoryton Playhouse is currently presenting a very entertaining production of Smokey Joe's Cafe. The show, a long-running hit on Broadway in the late 1990s, features songs with music and lyrics mostly by the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The production at Ivoryton Playhouse is skillfully directed and choreographed by Todd L. Underwood, with a company of nine actors, all of whom get to shine both as a group and individually, with each performer getting their big moment in the spotlight. Running a quick two hours, with an intermission, it should please fans of these songs as well as those new to the work of Leiber and Stoller.

On an appropriate set of a neighborhood (extremely well designed by Cully Long), it is no surprise that the first number heard in the show is called "Neighborhood" and it is smoothly delivered by the entire cast. What follows is a combination of ensemble numbers and solo turns, with just about every song being extremely enjoyable. There is no story in, but the musical revue does conjure up a feeling of community, as well as a lot of heart. Perhaps the nicest thing about this production, though, is just how wonderful the nine actors are.

Early on, Sandra Marante does a terrific job with the song "Falling" and she also ignites the stage with fellow actor Tiffany Frances in the exciting "Trouble." Marante makes an appearance in a striking red dress in the second act of the show and shimmies electrifyingly to "Teach Me How to Shimmy." That song is sung extremely well by Joseph Castro, who displays a strong voice throughout the show, before getting his breakout number, "Jailhouse Rock," where his Elvis-like moves and thrilling singing positively bring down the house.

The aforementioned Tiffany Frances is a stunner in a couple of solo spots, including a sinuous "Don Juan" and then "Some Cats Know." She is also quite fine in "Spanish Harlem," a duet she shares with the excellent Warren Nolan, Jr. Nolan also has a lot of fun with "Poison Ivy" and "Stay a While." Gabriella Saramago does well with the song "I Keep Forgettin'" before really coming into her own with a splendidly delivered "Pearl's a Singer" at the top of the second act. Elvie Ellis does a great job singing "Love Potion #9," and Cameron Loyal is equally good in the enjoyable "Little Egypt."

In a cast of equals, perhaps the highest vocal honors go to the sassy and golden-throated Debra Thais Evans, who is electric in "Fools Falls in Love" and "Hound Dog." However, Cartreze Tucker is a show-stopper delivering a knockout and very moving "I (Who Have Nothing)" near the end of the show. There are many group numbers as well, the best ones being "I'm a Woman," sung by the four actresses in the cast, and "On Broadway," with the actors dressed in sparkling blue jackets, beautifully designed by costume designer Elizabeth Saylor.

Director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood works wonders with his lighting designer Marcus Abbott, who practically sculpts the stage with his expert lighting, and the rousing onstage band, led by masterful musical director Mike Morris. The only problem is in the sound design, which causes some of the lyrics to be lost as the orchestra at times overpowers the singers. Still, in just about every other area, Smokey Joe's Cafe at Ivoryton Playhouse shines and is a guaranteed good time.

Make your way to Ivoryton Playhouse to catch this rollicking musical revue and to bask in these great songs with performers who sing them so well.

Smokey Joe's Cafe runs through July 31, 2022, at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton CT. For tickets and information, please visit