ACT II: A second look at area stages
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org September 27, 2012 4:52PM
A cast of megawatt personalities sings the songs of Leiber and Stoller in “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”
‘SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE: THE SONGS OF LEIBER AND STOLLER’
When: Through Nov. 11
Where: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 6970 N. Glenwood
Info: (800) 595-4849; www.theo-u.com
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:11AM
There is so much sassy talent generating so much rock ’n’ roll heat in the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller” that it might just be worth issuing this warning to the long-running and similarly rock-fueled show, “Million Dollar Quartet”: After all these years, you’ve finally got some genuine competition.
Yes, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is that good, thanks to the tremendous verve and originality of director-choreographer Brenda Didier (who uses the intimate storefront stage as if it were Radio City Music Hall) and the blazing musical direction of pianist Jeremy Ramey. Of course the show’s fabulous Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller jukebox score only reconfirms their status as one of the most theatrically savvy rock, pop, rhythm and blues and jazz songwriting teams from the late 1950s through the early ’80s.
The revue, a 1995 Broadway hit, is framed with a winning hint of nostalgia as a local club closes its doors in 1977, and its proprietor (the sweet, lush-voiced, larger-than-life Vasily Deris) sings “Neighborhood.” (Later, backed by the other eight megawatt personalities in the company, he will give a knockout rendition of “Jailhouse Rock,” too.) From there, it’s on to three dozen easily recognizable numbers, each interpreted in a wonderfully witty and distinctive way.
Sydney Charles, pencil thin but shapely, is hilarious and sexy as she sends her penniless lover packing in “Don Juan.” Britt-Marie Sivertsen shakes up a storm in “Teach Me How to Shimmy.” And the sultry-voiced Kasey Alfonso gives a sensational rendering of “Pearl’s a Singer.”
Four of the guys — Jaymes Osborne, TJ Crawford, Steve Perkins and Deris — team for a terrific train ride in “Keep on Rollin’,” while Justin Adair (so terrific as the Italian tenor in “The Light in the Piazza”) leads the way in a potent “Love Potion #9.” The men all reunite for a hilarious “Little Egypt” peep show sequence. And the clarion-voiced Robin K. Dasilva is a hoot as she puts her “Hound Dog” precisely where he belongs — in the doghouse.
And that is just the merest sampling of the masterful Leiber and Stoller songbook here, with Ramey leading a hot backup band that includes Joshua Therriault (sax), Danny Howard (drums) and Zach Moore (bass).
Just one final warning: Anyone not converted by the cast’s rip-roaring performance of “Saved” deserves hellfire.
NOTE: The theater serves several “show-themed” dinner entrees prior to the performance. Order in advance.