BWW Reviews: SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE Is Smokin' at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre

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Smokey Joe's Cafe/The Songs of Leiber and Stoller/words and music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller/directed & choreographed by Paul David Bryant/musical direction by Andrew Orbison/Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre, Claremont/August 1 through August 31

Akin to a revue, Smokey Joe's Cafe is made up of songs, songs, and more songs without a single word of dialogue. Like the final tune says "That Is Rock & Roll"; it's the music of Leiber and Stoller who gave us some of the biggest hits of the 50s like "Hound Dog", "Love Potion # 9" and "Jailhouse Rock". In a lively revival at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre, the smoke, the cafe and its music are ecstatically displayed by a cast of 9 thrilling vocalists.

Director/choreographer Paul David Bryant puts the gals together and then the guys and then pairs them off in a dazzling display of fireworks; that's right, with lots of attitude, as love - the good kind and the one gone bad - and retribution are at the heart of most Leiber & Stoller tunes. Take for example, "Love Me"/Don't", "Fools Fall In Love", "Poison Ivy", "You're the Boss" or the fierce independence of "I'm a Woman", "I (Who Have Nothing)" or "Stand By Me", and it is easy to see and feel how passionate the two masters of song were about male/female relationships. There are spiritual moments like "Saved" and hope for the human condition "D.W. Washburn". And there's super mood music like "Spanish Harlem" and "On Broadway". Them there's the unforgettably quaint, exotic sound of "Little Egypt", which falls into a class all my itself. You can almost envision a group of extreme conservatives pointing their fingers and shaking their fists at that 'shameful' one, all the while moving their bodies and feet in time to the rhythms.

This cast is a supertalented group who blend together with a ferociously sizzling chemistry. Cute and pretty Maggie Anderson sure can shimmy as DeLee. Jonathan Arana is a fab dancer and gets to show off his beautiful vocals with "Loving You". Yvonne is SEXxxxx...Y to the max whether moving or just standing still. RaShonda M. Johnson has the presence of Queen Latifah and the belting voice of a Jennifer Hudson. Molly Stilliens is also a powerhouse, as is John Grant, who brings down the house with "I(Who Have Nothing)". Gary Lewis, Tyler Lillestol and Melvin Ramsey all rock as they complete this sensational ensemble performing Paul David Bryant's zippy choreographic steps. Dynamic musical director Andrew Orbison is at the keyboard, Eric Gelenscer on bass, Ryan Maloney on guitar, Dan Silva on sax and Alan Waddington on drums. What an electric combo! The singers couldn't succeed without them!

Merrill Grady's costumes work perfectly to create just the right smokey ambiance, as does Joanathan Daroca's ultra vibrant lighting design.

This is one great show where you do not have to worry about plot details or story...there is none. Just sit back, relax and let the talented singing and dancing enthrall you. And indeed it will!

Michael Ryan's pre- show classical guitar set remains a treat...and as for food and service, Candlelight provides the best, always adapting their drink menus to suit the theme of every show. This time around it's "Poison Ivy" and "Hound Dog" each for only $5. Desserts, as always, are to die for!

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From This Author Don Grigware