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BWW Review: SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE at Fulton Theatre

The production runs from April 5th through May 1st.

BWW Review: SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE at Fulton Theatre Whether you know all the songs of Leiber & Stoller or only a few, there is something for everyone in the Fulton Theatre's production of Smokey Joe's Cafe.

Opening in 1995 to critical acclaim, Smokey Joe's Cafe is one of the longest running musical revues in Broadway history. Featuring much loved classics, such as Charlie Brown, Hound Dog, Spanish Rose in Harlem, and Fools Fall in Love, Smokey Joe's Cafe explores the songwriting duo's many hits.

Although a musical revue, by definition, does not contain a story or plotline, this reimagined modern production weaves themes of love and loss throughout a variety of jazzy, bluesy, and rock and roll numbers. The lack of storyline to set the pace and draw the audience in requires foremost a cast of powerful voices executing beautiful and intriguing choreography. From the very beginning, it is clear that the quartet of Shawn Bowers, Randy Jeter, Kamal Lado, and Kevin Smith Kirkwood are the ones to watch. Their gorgeous harmonies and fantastic moves highlighted throughout the program were spot on and great fun.

Although not every number in the show was equally strong, the vast majority were a spectacle to see and hear. Unfortunately, the female cast members, while individually strong, aren't strong as a group overall. The exception is when the audience nearly rose to their feet after their performance of "I'm a Woman".

In a show of over forty songs, each cast member was provided an opportunity to showcase their talents. Playing a feisty and strong willed character, Karmine Alers gritty and powerful voice was exactly what "Pearl's a Singer '' called for. Jessica Bennet, with her soulful voice, had too many amazing moments to pick just one to highlight. Bennet's "Don Juan" showcased her comedic talents where "Some Cats Know" highlighted her silky smooth tone.

A fun number, "You're the Boss" showed audience members the depth of Shawn Bower's bass range. "Jailhouse Rock" gave Dan DeLuca a moment to shine with his Elvis-like moves and rock and roll sound. One of the strongest voices on stage, Randy Jeter's "Love me/Don't" (alongside Alders) and "Stand By Me" (accompanied by the cast) can only be described as Smooooth. Kamal Lado and Mikayla Renfrow are the dancers to watch. Both demonstrate vocal talents in "Loving You"(Lado) and "I'm A Woman"(Renfrow), but it is in their dancing that they stand out from the rest of the cast. Kiani Nelson is a crowd favorite with her impressive range, however, it was Kevin Smith Kirkwood and his rendition of "I (Who Have Nothing)" that stole the show.

With so many numbers hitting the mark, it is surprising and a bit odd when they missed. It is the choreography that often feels repetitive or missing at times. In a show relying almost entirely on the music and dancing, it is disappointing to see numbers with little to no choreography and similar dance moves carried throughout.

Keeping with the reputation of the Fulton Theatre, the set design (Paul Black), lighting (Colin Riebel), and sound (Josh Allamon) set the perfect mood and transitioned seamlessly throughout. And we can't forget the band. Under the direction of Ben McNaboe (assisted by Sam Groisser), the band not only established the energy for the night, but got to share in the spotlight in a way not often seen on stage (no spoilers).

While some suggested the show may be a bit long, and with talented dancers the audience wanted more choreography, there is no doubt that this production had fantastic unforgettable moments and is a show well worth an evening out. To learn more about this and other productions at the Fulton Theatre, visit: https://thefulton.org/.



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From This Author - Jason Davis