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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Smokey Joe's Café


Musical theatre used to throb with revues from George White's Scandals to New Faces. But fashions have changed and the last hit musical revue was Smokey Joe's Café which debuted in Los Angeles in 1994, then moved to Broadway the next year where it played 2,036 performances, making it the longest musical revue run in Broadway history. It also had a London run and has been produced around the world ever since.

The music makers are Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who, beginning in the 1950s, wrote and produced a string of rhythm and blues hits with pop lyrics that revolutionized the rock scene and made history for such singers as Edith Piaf, Elvis Presley and Peggy Lee. Their hit show is back in Los Angeles, at the El Portal Theatre in Noho with a rousing cast who interpret director/choreographer Jeffrey Polk's well-paced period tribute with style and flair. The costumes and choreography are evocative of the middle decades of the 20th century when the composers burst onto the musical scene.

The cast includes Tony-nominees DeLee Lively and real-life husband Robert Torti. Lively recreates her legendary Broadway shimmy with insouciance and sass. Torti is sly, debonair and makes his own moment in "Jailhouse Rock." Sharon Catherine Blanks of the powerhouse voice ranges from the provocative "Dance With Me" to the gospel-themed " Saved" and a rendition of "Hound Dog" that will make you forget Elvis ever covered it.

Long-legged Dionne Figgins uses a long red feather boa, a short black mini-dress and a chair as props for sultry chanteuse renderings of " Don Juan" and "Some Cats Know." Slim youthful Jackie Seiden makes "I Keep Forgetting" unforgettable.

The four men who make a singing quartet that rivals any of the rock groups who've done these songs each show their stuff in individual solos. As a group they belt out such memorable numbers as "On Broadway." Maceo Oliver croons "Loving You" with suave originality and Actor/singer Niles Rivers tells the story of "D.W. Washburn" with droll persuasion, backed by the cast which is now a chorus. John Woodard III's huge deep voice gives an arresting quality to all his numbers and sinks into knowing intimacy in "You're the Boss," his duet with Dionne Figgins.

This is one of the truly joyful theater evenings to enjoy this holiday season.

Smokey Joe's Cafe
Words and Music: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Director/Choreographer: Jeffrey Polk
Musical Direction: Darryl Archibald
Cast: DeLee Lively, Robert Torti, Sharon Catherine Blanks, T. C. Carson, Dionne Figgins, Maceo Oliver, Niles Rivers, Jackie Seiden, John Woodard III
Lighting Design: Brendan Grevatt
Costume Supervisor: Maurilia Mendez
Production Technical Director: Jeremy Ordaz
Production Stage Manager: Chris Warren Murry
Running Time: Two hours 10 minutes, one intermission
Running Dates: December 10-January 4, 2008
Where: El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Reservations: (818) 508-4200
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on December 20, 2008.


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