BWW Review: SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE Entertains at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse

BWW Review: SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE Entertains at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse
Michael Hunsaker and company. Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.

The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse's final show in the 2016 Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival is none other than Smokey Joe's Café. The entertaining musical revue features 39 classic rock and roll, jazz, R&B, and soul tunes by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The unique show brings us back to the Golden Age of American and Merry-Go-Round's production - directed and choreographed by DJ Salisbury - is pure entertainment for Central New York audiences. It showcases some amazing singers. The powerhouse performances are non-stop.

Since the musical features no dialogue and no obvious unifying plot, it's solely up to the singers - accompanied by a live orchestra - to deliver the music and lyrics in a way that keeps the audience's attention throughout the proceedings. In Merry-Go-Round's case, this is a success. Each musical number is a focal point for a scene and storyline. The actors get into a character for each song and play off of each other perfectly when required. The onstage orchestra under the musical direction of the talented Kristen Lee Rosenfeld provides extra entertainment and energizes the actors in each musical number. The musical numbers flow perfectly together and Chad Healy's creative, detailed, and easy-moving set supports this effort quite nicely.

The musical showcases fabulous singers each of whom have more than a few moments to shine. They perform non-stop with very few breaks, but they keep up the energy and entertainment level.

Rheaume Crenshaw's musical numbers showcased her passion for performing and powerhouse vocals. Crenshaw is highly amusing in her first number "Dance with Me," singing and dancing with Cornelius Davis, Denzel Edmondson, Gabriel Mudd, and Chris White. Her highlight numbers, however, are two familiar favorites: "Fools Fall in Love" and "Hound Dog." She brought the house down with her vocal talent, confidence, and charm.

Samantha Duval demonstrates her wide range and amazing vocal technique when she takes center stage on all of her numbers. She really shows off her powerhouse belt in numbers such as "Pearl's a Singer" and "I Keep Forgettin'." Duval's gorgeous voice also shines on "Love Me/Don't," along with Gabriel Mudd's. Thanks to her star quality voice, she deservedly stole the show on many occasions.

Summerisa Bell Stevens' dancing and singing are also memorable. Her solo on the lovely song "Falling" makes a lasting impression, as does her enormously entertaining and charming rendition of "Trouble" with Candice Marie Woods. Summerisa's dance moves are particularly amazing in "Teach Me How to Shimmy." She shimmies through the entire number showing off the costume by Tiffany Howard that added so much to the choreography.

Candice Marie Woods' sultry and soulful voice is an asset to all of her musical numbers. Highlights include "Don Juan," "You're the Boss" (with Chris White), and "Some Cats Know."

The male performers often appear as a group and when this happens they smoothly play off of each other, and achieve a wonderful vocal blend. Each brings something special to the stage.

Cornelius Davis is extremely comedic in "Shoppin' for Clothes," but he has the opportunity to show off his comedic chops - and wonderful high range - on other numbers as well. "I (Who Have Nothing)" showcases his impressive range particularly well.

Gabriel Mudd's voice is so smooth and clear. Mudd's shining moment comes on the very familiar song "Stand By Me." Denzel Edmondson wows on "Poison Ivy" and "Spanish Harlem." Chris White's deep bass voice steals the spotlight every time he effortlessly hits those low notes in the group numbers as well as his solos. Michael Hunsaker entertains in the rock and roll favorite "Jailhouse Rock."

As good as all the performers are as individuals, the ensemble numbers are particularly special. One of the most entertaining musical numbers for me was the powerful and passionate favorite "I'm a Woman." This number involves all of the female actors and they took advantage of the opportunity, stealing the show with their attitude, confidence, charm, and flawless vocals. Other favorite musical numbers include "Young Blood," "Kansas City," "Searchin'," and "On Broadway."

Smokey Joe's Café is just non-stop entertaining familiar music delivered by some amazing singers. The production at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse is top notch thanks to their talent. Without good singing the show would not work.

Merry-Go-Round Playhouse end its 2016 Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival on a high note. The fabulous show is pure fun.

Running Time: Approximately One hour and fifty five minutes with one fifteen minute intermission.

Guidance: Fun for all!

Smokey Joe's Café runs through November 19, 2016 at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in Auburn, New York as part of the 2016 Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival. For tickets and information on Broadway in the Finger Lakes at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse visit their website or call 315-255-1785/1-800-457-8897.

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From This Author Natasha Ashley