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BWW Review: SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE is Energetic, Must-See Fun at TexArts

BWW Review: SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE is Energetic, Must-See Fun at TexArts
(l-r) Kia Malone, Lauren DeFilippo, Jessica O'Brien,
and Christina Stroup.
Photo by April Paine

SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE is now open for business as part of TexArts Professional Series in Lakeway. Based on the music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, this Tony nominated musical opened on Broadway in 1995 and played for over two thousand performances, making it the longest running musical revue in Broadway history. With no theme besides its songs' creators, the show follows the standard revue format. The thirty-nine songs featured are presented by a cast of ferociously talented entertainers (Edward L. Burkley IV, Quincy Kuykendall, Kia Malone, Paul Sanchez, Jessica O'Brien, Christina Stroup, Lauren DeFilippo, Roderick Sanford, and Russel Taylor) in various combinations without additional dialogue or plot. Leiber and Stoller's well-known catalogue features romantic ballads and energetic pop hits like "Fools Fall In Love," "There's Goes My Baby," "Yakety Yak," and "Love Potion #9."

Director, Kimberly Schafer has assembled a top-notch cast that figuratively rips the roof off of TexArts' small theatre. Each entertainer is a combination of raw vocal talent and onstage charisma all while delivering non-stop energy. Such talent makes it difficult to pin point a stand out in this lineup, but there were plenty of outstanding musical moments. The soulful quartet of Edward L. Burkley IV, Quincy Kuykendall, Paul Sanchez, and Roderick Sanford boasts both sultry harmonies and smooth moves during numbers like "On Broadway" and "Dance With Me," accompanied by Jessica O'Brien. Not to be outdone, O'Brien, Kia Malone, Christina Stroup, and Lauren DeFilippo bring the house down with their rousing rendition of "I'm A Woman." Other favorite numbers include Roderick Sanford and Kia Malone's playful version of "You're The Boss," Paul Sanchez's powerful rendition of "I (Who Have Nothing)," and the show's final number, "Stand By Me."

Direction and choreography by Schafer are simple, but capture the magic and vitality of each number and allows the cast to give engaging, nuanced performances. At first glance, set design by Donna Coughlin, seems to mimic that simplicity, but when combined with lighting design by Rachel Atkinson it creates a dream-like cabaret lounge of days gone by. The brightest spot of this stellar production is musical direction by Lynn Koenning. Koenning's expertise and keen ear lend itself to the five-person band, creating the perfect soundtrack for the cast's powerful voices. Commendation must also be given to the diversity in this production. Showcasing artists of color and those of different ages, genders, and abilities should always be a priority to continue elevating Austin and the surrounding areas' theatre community.

In closing, SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE is a fun, energetic, must-see production with a powerhouse cast and performances. Whether you are already a fan of Leiber and Stoller's classic hits or are just looking for a great show, this rollicking revue makes the drive to Lakeway well worth the trip.

SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE is now playing at TexArts (2300 Lohmans Spur suite 160, Lakeway, TX) until March 4th. Runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm.

Approx. running time: Two hours with one fifteen-minute intermission

Tickets: $40-$50

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