Photos by Dana Niemeier Photography
By PAM HARBAUGH
There’s so much performing talent in the Henegar’s production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” that this show simply flies by in a flash. In fact, when the house lights come on for intermission, your one response will probably be “already?”
This musical revue, created by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, opened on Broadway in 1995 and ran for five years. It features songs from the ’50s and ’60s — many of them iconic tunes, such as “Dance with Me,” “Kansas City,” “Poison Ivy,” “There Goes My Baby” and “Stand By Me.”
Here, the show is directed with sophisticated elan by Hank Rion, choreographed with fun gusto by Amanda Cheyenne Manis and music directed with tight precision by Kaimi Lucker. And, wow. does this winning trio have one terrific cast to give voice to their vision.
He may the youngest in the talented cast of nine experienced performers, but Daniel Grest knocks it out of the park in his solo number, “I Who Have Nothing.” We all know this young man sings like a dream, but here, he takes this huge power ballad and wrests emotion and thrill from it. And, yes, it prompts audience members to their feet with shouts of “Woo!”
Precious Evans is simply adorable in “Dance with Me.” She is at her best in “Hound Dog,” which is sung in a comic response to Tony Southerlan’s very funny “Treat Me Nice.”
“You’re the Boss” is a sheer delight in the talented and capable hands of Dann Black and Shara Kyles, who also utterly charms in a series of solos where she saunters onto the stage trailing a long red feather boa behind her.
Christine Brandt and Shane Frampton join Ms. Evans and Ms. Kyles in the sassy “I’m a Woman.” Keenan Carver is especially winning in the elegant “Loving You.” Joseph Horton leads the cast in a rollicking “Jailhouse Rock.”
The orchestra even has a chance to take the spotlight in “Stay a While.” The members are Brian Meisenburg on piano, Jean Black on synthesizer, Phil Coe on guitar, Mike Roosa on drum set, Casey Dodd on percussion, Jordan Evans on bass and saxophonist Charlie Almeida, a musician loaded with chops.
Scenic designer Austin Butler creates a clever ’60s-inspired backdrop which easily opens and closes, always supporting the action and never overshadowing it. Lighting designers Steve Rossi and Joshua Huss add energy and bring a great concert style to their vibrant lighting design. Sound designer Thom Restivo keeps a good polish on the show’s major element. And Andrew Cline creates a panoply of stylish and “fitting” costumes for the many, many musical numbers.
The Henegar’s “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” makes for one terrific evening out. It’s smart, sassy, loaded with talent and entertains through and through.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” runs through Jan. 31 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $16 to $26. Call 321-723-8698, visit Henegar.org or click onto the ad on the right side of this page.
Note to my readers: I have a professional relationship with the Henegar Center. I am not calling this a “review,” but a “commentary.” I assure you, however, that it is sincere.