Theatre Review: ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ at MusicalFare Theatre

The cast of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at MusicalFare Theatre. Photo by Jesse Sloier.

There’s a certain advantage to attending a show you know very little about — there are no preconceived notions, and the intent is simply to enjoy the performance. MusicalFare’s production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” certainly delivered a knockout performance for their audience. This musical revue is an enjoyable mix of high-energy ensemble pieces and slower, more intense solo numbers. The show is a revue of pieces written by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, including songs such as “Yakety Yak”, “Charlie Brown”, “Hound Dog”, “Love Potion #9”, “Jailhouse Rock”, and “Stand By Me”.

. . .most definitely a show you won’t want to miss.

At first sight, the stage seems well fit for such a production — the set is decorated as a colorful jukebox,  with a sign reading “Wurlitzer” above the stage. The use of moving panels aid in entrances and exits for some of the more intense numbers, and the band is stationed behind a scrim, beneath a neon sign reading “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”. When the stage is lit just so, the band is nearly as visible as the cast members themselves. There was a small solo section for each musician in the opening number of act 2, which had the audience cheering.

One  difficulty with a musical revue is showcasing each performer’s talents without one or a few overpowering the rest. “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” was cast so well that each solo or small group could then seamlessly transition into an ensemble number with ease. Marc Sacco was charming and charismatic onstage in songs in which he was featured more heavily. Brian Brown’s voice is a smooth and clear tenor. Dudney Joseph Jr. brought soul and emotion to his performances. Lorenzo Shawn Parnell’s performances were strong, and he looked at ease on stage. Ben Michael Moran’s rich bass was supplemented by his characteristic facial expressions throughout the show. When all five men were performing together, they created a vocal powerhouse that blew the audience away.

The females in the cast were no different. Victoria Perez and Zoe Scruggs were incredibly soulful; Perez has a gorgeous low range, and Scruggs was, at times, vocally reminiscent of Aretha Franklin. Michele Marie Roberts has a beautiful belt and soprano range, and Nicole Marrale Cimato shone particularly onstage when she was dancing, not to mention her knockout voice. The four women got together for a song entitled “I’m a Woman” and the audience whooped and whistled throughout the performance.

The choreography was extremely well-done by director John Fredo. It was just enough to supplement the vocals, but not too busy to detract from the rest of the show.

It is certainly a feat to do justice to this music, but the cast didn’t let the audience down at any turn. This is most definitely a show you won’t want to miss.

Running Time: 2 Hours with a 15-minute intermission.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” runs until March 11, 2018 and is presented at Musicalfare Theatre. For more information, click here.