Winter holds a certain charm before the holidays, with turkeys and caroling and gifts and gift-wrapping. But then comes months of gray skies and tax season. The soul begins to demand summer. Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore is packing a pocketful of summer, delivered in the form of Smokey Joe’s Café.
Directed by Kevin McAllister, Smokey Joe’s Café is a musical revue featuring 39 familiar and hummable tunes, written by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The Original Broadway Cast Recording won a Grammy in 1996 and rightfully so. The infectious score all but encourages audiences to sing along, melodies of years past falling from many a patron’s mouth. Though relics of a slightly different day, these songs have lost nothing with the passage of time.
The vocal skill and brazen musical talent of that cast takes the tunes to the next level. Nearly every number is competent, and at times, arresting. Kelli Blackwell, Debra Buonaccorsi, Colby Kay Callahan, Bryan Daniels, Nick Lehan, David Little, Jonathan David Randle, Mary Searcy, Derek Tatum, and Marquise White work seamlessly as an ensemble. Under the wing of music director Cedric Lyles, the talent is a sight to behold, and brings true vitality to the production.
As important as the musical flair is, the stylistic flair, served smooth and flashy by costume designer Janine Sunday. From the suits to the sequins, the trip down memory lane is sealed by the threads, always a joy to watch beneath the slick and savy lighting design (Lynn Joslin). The music and space move smoothly together (even the lively band is utilized on stage), all easily flowing as the score itself.
As a musical revue, the show has no official plot and nearly no dialogue. Numbers are staged with miniature storylines, some landing their jokes and hitting their marks better than others. The show, choreographed by Ashleigh King and Anwar Thomas, is at its best when it’s active, with numbers like “Kansas City,” “Keep on Rollin’”, and “WOMAN” shaking the space to its core. Beyond that stretches “Fools Fall In Love (Reprise)” with two truly exceptional performances by Kelli Blackwell and Marcy Searcy which begged an encore (or a show of their very own). And the powerful “I (Who Have Nothing)” sung by Jonathan David Randle is still hanging over my thoughts as I write this.
Smokey Joe’s Café is a light and catchy break from whatever looms outside in the cold. Old favorites. Vocal power. Heat. Go join the summer inside Smokey Joe’s Café. February demands it.
Smokey Joe’s Café
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Directed by Kevin McAllister
Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore
Reviewed by Sarah Ameigh
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 30 minute intermission
- Sandra Kemick . PasadenaVoice
Steve Charing . BaltimoreOutLoud
- Jack L. B. Gohn . BroadwayWorld
- Amanda Gunther . MDTheatreGuide