Smokey Joe’s Café makes its way to the Stage Door Repertory Theatre

As its second show in its fifth season, Stage Door Repertory Theatre brings the musical review, Smokey Joe’s Café, to its stage, and whether you’re a fan of the work of songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, or if the songs are long before your time, you will be amazed at how many classic hit tunes the creative and prolific duo wrote.They were particularly influential in the rock ‘n roll scene in the ‘50s and the ‘60s writing incredible hit after hit such as Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Hound Dog,” Love Potion No. 9,” “Charlie Brown,” and, the unforgettable, “Stand By Me,” just to name a few. The show itself is set in the true venue of the genre, and the appeal of Smokey Joe’s Café is not coming from some kind of abstract theatrical brilliance or show stopping special effects or even some kind of thrilling lighting extravaganza; on the contrary, it is an uncomplicated musical celebration of the unbelievable number and variety of beloved catchy, novelty, and soulful songs in the Lieber and Stoller catalogue.The Smokey Joe’s Café song list includes 40 of Leiber and Stoller’s numbers, and SDRT’s production gives two particularly outstanding performances featuring the quartet, Franklin Richardson, Matthew P. Berardi, Van D. Hudson Jr., and Manuel Arturo singing and grooving along with “Keep On Rollin’” and “Searchin’.” With his bass vocals, Manuel Arturo is the show’s stand out, and his “Little Egypt” performance is flawless.Arturo and James Frietas both shine on “Stay Awhile.” Linsey Rene shimmies her way in with Frietas on “Teach Me How to Shimmy,” and Imani Hayes’ sassy “Don Juan” is really fun. Brenda Oen’s “Hound Dog” has the girls cheering and the guys squirming, while Kennedy Hammock’s “Pearl’s a Singer” is a gem of a number.“I’m a Woman” is the best of the female quartets featuring Imani, Brenda, Linsey, and Kennedy. SDRT’s production was not without its flaws; however, so here goes: on Friday night, the sound in Act I was off balance. While the seven piece band directed by Rick Heckman was rockin’ out, it was impossible to hear the vocals in the first act.The problem was corrected by Act II and the balance between the music and the vocals was ideal from then on. Although the highly spirited, energetic and diverse cast gives performances that are slightly uneven, the production itself runs very smoothly and there isn’t a single moment of down time.The songs roll seamlessly from one number to the next making it the coveted rock ‘n roll LP album you simply can’t take off the record player. Alyssa Heckman and Ken Carrell’s highly effective and clever choreography is particularly eye catching and the numbers, “On Broadway,” with Berardi and Hudson Jr., and the full cast’s “D.W. Washburn,” are both exceptionally fun to watch.A trip down memory lane or if you’re a new fan strolling through some of the great oldies but goodies, SDRT’s Smokey Joe’s Café is well worth the trip. Stage Door Repertory Theater 1045 Armando St, Ste B, Anaheim, CA 92806. For Tickets 714 630.7378. www.stagedoorrep.org Runs February 27, 2016 through March 12. Director: Nick Charles; Musical Director: Rick Heckman; Choreographers: Alyssa Heckman and Ken Carrell; Dance Captain: Manuel Arturo; Costumes: Julie Charles and The Cast; Lighting Design and Board Operator: Nick Charles; Sound Mixer: John McQuay.

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