Forget Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey, if you can.
Remember the late ‘40s and ‘50s when composers got a giant cauldron and mixed together Blues, Country, R & B, Gospel, Folk, Jazz, Swing and Doo Wop and out came Rock ‘n’ Soul.
Rock ‘n’ Soul is the term used by one of the cast members of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” the excellent revue currently performing at Tacoma Little Theatre.
“Smokey Joe’s,” with words and music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stroller, is a true revue – there are no spoken words in the show; after Managing Artistic Director Chris Serface says his curtain speech, all the audience hears is lyrics and music, music, music!
And what music it is – performed by a fantastic group of nine actors/singers/dancers who have given six weeks of their talent, energy and lives to make this an astounding production.
The daring duo of composers almost cornered the market of this formless musical form of song for the heydays of the style. It is no wonder that the 40 songs, sung one after the other with no interruption of dialogue, continues at a moving pace through ballads like “Spanish Harlem,” novelty numbers like “Yakety Yak” or plain Rock ‘n’ Roll like “Jail House Rock.” The pace marches on and on; the audience takes a walloping at the infectious speed — the players seem never to tire nor miss a beat.
Director/Voice Director Micheal O’Hara keeps the actors perfectly paired for each song. The five men and four women change their affiliations and styles as easily as they change their costumes to befit the numbers without dropping a note.
O’Hara, a consummate actor, singer and dancer himself, is a natural to direct this show, as he’s done all and knows exactly what makes it all work for his performers as well as the audience.
O’Hara’s choice of cast member Eric Clausell as his chorographer couldn’t have been more perfect. Clausell, a proven actor/singer/dancer in his own right, molds perfectly into the chorographer niche.
The two artists seem to read each other’s minds – O’Hara relinquishing to Clausell for staging the dance numbers and Clausell giving up the stage to O’Hara for the movement of the actors. In fact, they are so evenly matched it is difficult to discern where one director leaves off and the other starts adding to the theatrical experience for the audience.
Terry O’Hara is Musical Director who conducts the band while on piano. Noah Pettibone plays Saxophone (Brady McCowan as sub); Jim O’Hara strums guitar; Patrick O’Hara with bass; and Jay Douglas playing drums (Cal Neal as sub).
The music is beautifully done to complement but never out shines the singers; this is the way it is meant to be.
Blake R. York designed the multi-platformed set with an intriguing spiral staircase down stage left. The mini stages are built on the theatre’s revolving stage, allowing for a different venue to show off the band for the second act.
Kristin Zetterstrom does the ambience lighting design. Michele Graves does costumes. Nena Curley runs the ship as Stage Manager.
The incredible cast includes Melanie Gladstone who, in “Teach Me How to Shimmy” and “Spanish Harlem,” proves to be the best female dancer of the troupe.
Ashley Jackson shines when singing “Don Juan” and “Some Cats Know.”
Ashanti Parker who makes us believe that “Fools Fall in Love” and tells us about “Hound Dog” has an outstanding voice and is quite a good dancer, as well. Parker is the author of the very apt “Rock ‘N’ Soul” designation of “Smokey Joe’s” music.
Nancy Hebert is the owner of an amazing voice, which she gives full range when singing “I Keep Forgettin’” and “Pearl’s a Singer.” Anyone listening from the lobby would have no trouble knowing something is happening on stage.
Jermaine Lindsay shows his feelings when he sings “You’re the Boss” with Jackson and means it all when he performs “Little Egypt” with the rest of the guys.
Kawika Huston reveals his dancing and singing expertise when he performs “Dance with Me” with Parker and his romantic side when singing “Loving You.”
Bruce Haasl lets everyone know his feelings for his gal when he sings “Ruby Baby” and channels Elvis when he belts our “Jailhouse Rock.”
Loucas Curry almost steals the show with his comic renditions of “”Searchin’” and “D.W. Washburn.” Curry has a distinct sound, able comic reactions and excellent acting ability. The man is just funny, who also happens to be able to sing and dance.
Eric Clausell, who doubles as the show’s chorographer, is an exceptional talent. This man who could be described as “a tall drink of water” is as fluid as quicksilver. When practicing his own dance steps, Clausell’s antics almost dare the rest of the cast to match him – they come close, but none is better than the bend-a-bitty, excellent singer who does almost impossible things with his agile body.
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” ” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through June 12 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturday with 2 p.m. matinees Sunday. There is a 7:30 p.m. Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday, June 2.
Kudos to Director O’Hara and his cast and crew for giving all a never-to-be-forgotten glimpse of days gone by but, thankfully, not lost. It is amazing how each performer easily flits from one role to another; from lead singer to back-up to dancer to comical to romantic to rock. It’s all in a night’s work for the truly talented, as good as any professional performer.
Make your reservations for “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” before the theatre seats disappear as quickly as tables in a five-star restaurant.