'Smokey Joe's Cafe' serves up rock 'n' roll hits

Think juke box. Think familiar, even favorite songs and music of the '50s and '60s. Then picture an earnest, energetic cast of singers and dancers, supported impressively by a collection of talented musicians, and you'll begin to imagine the fun and good time you'll have at a performance of "Smokey Joe's Cafe," the musical on stage in the Elizabeth Wallace Theater of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island.

"Smokey Joe's," featuring the words and music of award-winning composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, is a revue, really, all about chart-topping music and polished performance. There is no particular plot line, nor are there spoken words.

Not even, in the final analysis, a particular theme ... perhaps a sweeping glance at American culture of the '50s and '60s.

"Smokey Joe's" opened on Broadway in 1995 and closed in 2000 after more than 2,000 performances gathering Tony awards and nominations for Best Musical, Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical.

The more than three dozen songs performed in two hours are planned to move the production right along, taking us from "The Neighborhood," "Broadway" the "Jailhouse" or "Shoppin' For Clothes" in a kind of unrelated, freewheeling way. Occasionally the juxtaposition of one song next to another turns out to be the subtle message. I was looking forward to and delightfully amused at "Little Egypt" just ahead of "I Am a Woman."

Just as Leiber and Stoller create in a variety of musical formats, the tunes in "Smokey Joe's" are varied with samplings of pop, rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, romantic ballads and off-the-wall novelty pieces. How you will love the performances of such favorites as "Spanish Harlem," "Poison Ivy" "Yakety Yak," "Hound Dog," "Love Potion No. 9," "Fools Fall in Love" and "Stand by Me," and the impressive list goes on.

I particularly enjoyed some of the songs performed in a style or format not at all the same as all of those years ago. "Hound Dog," "Dance With Me," and "Yakety Yak" offered fresh spins on the classics.

We know, of course, no matter how much we love the words and music of Lieber and Stoller, it is ultimately the cast who makes the show a success. And, happily, I must tell you that the ensemble included talented singers and dancers, several with finely honed, distinctive musical personalities. A gathering of nine, they came to Hilton Head from a variety of locales, several just in from national tours, to sing and dance.

Look forward to solid performances by national and regional veteran Shavey Brown, new to the arts center; LaDonna Burns, who appeared here in "Beehive;" Delius Doherty, who is also new to the arts center; Samantha Gershman, the "Shimmy Girl," whose performance you will not soon forget; Steven M. Goldsmith and Rayna Hickman, both new to the arts center, but broadly experienced; Zoe Morris, with performances on Broadway and on national tours, even Radio City Music Hall; Deonte Warren, having just wrapped up his appearance here as Seaweed in "Hairspray"; and Kent Zimmerman, who comes with impressive tour and Broadway experience, too.


Arts Center of Coastal Carolina