by Lorie Lewis Ham
If you are a fan of popular music from the ’50s and ’60s then Smokey Joe’s Cafe is the show for you. It is currently on stage at the Reedley Opera House, presented by the River City Theatre Company.Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a musical revue showcasing 39 pop standards, including rock and roll and rhythm and blues songs, mostly written by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The show opened on Broadway in 1995. While this show doesn’t have any dialog or plot, it begins and nearly ends with the song “Neighborhood” (the final reprise is the second to the last song), which talks about memories, and this seems to be a running theme of the show. I recognized almost every song in this show, and some were ones that I think almost anyone would recognize, like “Jailhouse Rock,” “Fools Fall In Love,” “I’m A Woman” (this one has even been used in commercials), “I (Who Have Nothing),” and “On Broadway.”
The cast of this production is made up of familiar RCTC faces, including three from their recent production of Memphis–Samuel Walls, Jeremy Salas, and Isaiah Bueno. Levetta Wheeler, Jessica Williams, and Cassandra Charles were all in the RCTC production of Hairspray back in 2014, as well as some other RCTC shows. Christian David has also been in at least one RCTC show in the past. The last member of the cast is very familiar to RCTC both off and on stage and is also the co-director of this show, Tidy Gill.
Every member of the cast has a lovely voice and this show is fun to listen to and watch, with some fun choreography. Christian David blew me away with his voice every time he had a lead, but especially in “I (Who Have Nothing)”, a very emotional song toward the end of the show, and the lovely and sweet song “Loving You.” Every time Levetta sang, with her powerful and soulful voice it took me back to her performance in “Hairspray” as Motormouth Mabel-not only does she have an amazing voice but she is an incredible performer. My favorites of her songs in this show include a gospel style song called “Saved.” I also LOVED both of her renditions of “Fools Fall in Love,” but especially the more jazzy version in Act 2. Another high point of “Saved” was the amazing high note at the end sung by Jeremy Salas. Samuel Walls rocked out like Elvis in “Jailhouse Rock,” and sung a beautiful jazzy and fun duet with Tidy Gill in “You’re the Boss.” The girls all had a chance to shine in “I’m A Woman” and there were many fun songs by the guys with beautiful four-part harmony. They are also accompanied by a talented band made up of Jordan Williams, Nick Bell, and Jackie Avila.
I could highlight song after song, but you get the idea. If you love popular music from that era, beautiful harmonies, and lovely voices, don’t miss Smokey Joe’s Cafe, which will be on stage at the Reedley Opera House through November 4. Tickets can be purchased on their website, by calling the box office, and at the door.
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