Musical Theatre Review Print



Broadway Series South: Smokey Joe's Café is a Stirring Salute to the Songs of Leiber and Stoller

& Preview: Broadway Series South: Smokey Joe's Café Is a Wonderful Walk Down Rock-and-Roll Memory Lane

April 5, 2005 - Raleigh, NC:


The Phoenix Productions’ National Tour of Smokey Joe’s Café, now playing at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, is a real treat for Broadway Series South audiences all ages. On opening night (Tuesday), they rewarded the high-octane performances of the show’s young and very, very talented cast with a lengthy standing ovation.

Swing Anthony Wayne, substituting for Terry L. Daniels, demonstrated a fine flair for comedy with his lead vocals on “Young Blood” and “Love Potion #9”; tugged at the audience’s heartstrings with his soulful versions of “There Goes My Baby” and especially “Stand By Me”; and crooned “Love Me” while Kate McCann warbled “Don’t” in one of the revue’s musical highlights.

Wayne also teamed with Mark Anthony Hall Anthony Hall, Chris Sams, and/or EJ Griffón for knockout versions of “Keep On Rollin’” and “On Broadway,” among others.

Chanteuse Laurie Saylor is a delight whether soloing on “Falling,” providing a devilish duet on “Trouble” (with Mekia Cox), or dancing up a storm in the show’s “Teach Me How to Shimmy” segment.

Mekia Cox stops the show with her sarcastic post mortem on a now chastened and impecunious former “Don Juan” and her sultry version of “Some Cats Know”; and she contributes a wistful duet with Chris Sams on “Spanish Harlem.”

Nova Y. Payton is a regular ball of fire. Her solos on “Fools Fall in Love,” “Saved,” “Hound Dog,” and the reprise of “Fools Fall in Love” are smoking; and she harmonizes hilariously with Mekia Cox, Laurie Saylor, and Kate McCann on “I’m a Woman.”

Kate McCann’s soulful solos on “I Keep Forgettin’,” “Pearl’s a Singer,” and the reprise of neighborhood are another delight.

EJ Griffón’s performances as a jilted boyfriend in “Searchin’,” as a penniless fashion maven in “Shoppin’ for Clothes” (with Mark Anthony Hall), and as an incorrigible drunk in “D.W. Washburn” are hilarious; and he smoothly shifts to a more somber gear in “Treat Me Nice” and “I (Who Have Nothing).”

Also worth the price of admission are the lead vocals of Jason Shuffler (“Ruby Baby,” “Teach Me How to Shimmy,” and “Jailhouse Rock”). And the show’s powerhouse production numbers “Neighborhood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown,” “Baby, That Is Rock & Roll,” and the title tune are highly invigorating, hand-clapping, toe-tapping treats.

This marvelous musical revue, smartly staged by director Michael McFadden and briskly choreographed by LeAnne McFadden, reproducing the original choreography of Joey McKneely, showcases a whole slew of Golden Oldies by the premiere 1950s songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who penned a seemingly endless Hit Parade of Top 40 tunes for Elvis Presley, Ben E. King, Peggy Lee, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Monkees, etc.

Musical supervisor/director Steven M. Bishop, conductor Alan Patrick Kenny, assistant conductor Chris Babbage (keyboards), and Bryan Connell (saxophone) play the Leiber and Stoller songbook with passion and panache. Scenic designer Walt Spangler creates an eye-catching multilevel industrial-style set, lighting designer Charlie Morrison illuminates the onstage antics with pizzazz, costume designer Jennifer Jansen clothes the cast in a vivid array of glad rags, and sound designer Craig Cassidy keeps the vocals at the forefront of the wall of sound generated by the red-hot orchestra.

Like Leiber and Stoller, we can say of Smokey Joe’s Café: Baby, this is rock and roll! Don’t miss it.

Broadway Series South presents Smokey Joe’s Café Thursday-Friday, April 7-8, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 9, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 10, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $14-$54. BTI Center Box Office: 919/831-6060. Groups of 20 or More: 919/857-4565 or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/group.html#smokey [inactive 5/05]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/broadway.html [inactive 5/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=8112. Broadway Show: http://www.smokeyjoescafe.com/ [inactive 12/07]. This Tour: http://www.phoenixontour.com/tours/smokey.html [inactive 7/05]. Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Songwriters Hall of Fame): http://www.songwritershalloffame.org/award_recipient_detail.asp?ceremonyId=12&awardRecipientId=88 [inactive 5/05].


PREVIEW: Broadway Series South: Smokey Joe's Café Is a Wonderful Walk Down Rock-and-Roll Memory Lane

by Robert W. McDowell

The Phoenix Productions National Tour of the GRAMMY Award-winning Broadway musical revue Smokey Joe’s Café, which opens tonight at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as part of Broadway Series South, is a wonderful walk down rock-and-roll Memory Lane, especially if you are a Baby Boomer who grew up dancing to Top 40 tunes in the 1950s and 60s. This marvelous musical revue, which showcases the rock-and-roll standards and novelty numbers penned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, will run through April 10th.

Smokey Joe’s Café will play eight performances in the City of Oaks; and Tanea Reneé (pronounced “Tan-Ee-Ah Re-nay”) must to be ready to perform either of two vocally challenging roles on a moment’s notice, because she serves as a “swing” for the roles of B.J. and Pattie (named for original Broadway cast members B.J. Crosby and Pattie Darcy Jones, respectively).

“You have to be very, very prepared to go on at any moment,” Reneé claims. “I’ve gone on in the middle of a show, for someone who’s lost her voice. Things happen. People get sick. In the course of a year’s time, people get strep; and that floats through the entire cast…. [Being a swing] sometimes can be nerve-wracking…. It’s taught me to be ready at all times, to be warmed up and ready to go and on top of the dance steps, because that’s my job.”

Born in Baltimore, MD and presently living and working in New York City, Tanea Reneé is a PK (Preacher’s Kid), an only child who at age 18, two days after her high-school graduation, left Baltimore to spend a year in Italy on a mission trip for DELTA Ministries International (http://www.deltaministries.com/).

“I didn’t appreciate the whole experience then,” the Baptist preacher’s daughter admits, “but I appreciate it now as an older adult. DELTA Ministries uses your talent for spreading the gospel…. We would sing, and I lived with an Italian family for a whole month…. It was good and bold experience for me.”

After returning from Italy, Tanea Reneé studied nursing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which made it easy to visit her grandparents who live in Statesville, NC. After two years at UNC-G, Reneé succumbed to the bite of the theater bug, moved back to Baltimore, took a year off, and then got scholarship to study theater at nearby Towson University. After she received her B.S. degree in theater “Not musical theater, just straight acting” in 2001, she moved to the Big Apple.

“I never planned on doing musical theater,” Reneé confesses, “but when I hit New York, that’s where all the jobs are, and I’ve been singing all my life.”

A gifted dancer and comedian as well as a singer, Reneé performed on the “Dave Chappelle Show” on Comedy Central. After appearing in a summer-stock production of Smokey Joe’s Café last year in Pennsylvania, Reneé auditioned for Phoenix Productions’ current National Tour of the show. Rehearsals started Aug. 23rd in Frederick, MD. The show hit the road on Sept. 21st.

“The cast is really close,” says Reneé. “There’s only 13 of us. From the band members, all the way to the principals, everybody is really close. I’m starting to understand that that’s really rare.”

Reneé urges Broadway Series South patrons to come to Smokey Joe’s Café in a relaxed frame of mind: “Just be ready to participate, be ready to have fun…. We really want people to get involved. The more you give, the more you get. It really fires the cast up to see people have fun.”

2000 Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees Jerome Leiber, born April 25, 1933 in Baltimore, MD, and Michael Stoller, born March 13, 1933 in Belle Harbor, NY, were a couple of nice Jewish boys who teamed up as teenagers in Los Angeles, CA. They became, perhaps, the most successful song writers and record producers of the 1950s; and wrote a veritable Hit Parade of chart-toppers for African-American supergroups and soloists, such as The Clovers (“Love Potion #9”), The Coasters (“Charlie Brown,” “Poison Ivy,” “Searchin’,” “Yakety Yak,” and “Young Blood”), The Drifters (“Dance with Me,” “Fools Fall In Love,” “On Broadway,” and “There Goes My Baby”), the Isley Brothers (“Teach Me How To Shimmy”), and Ben E. King (“Spanish Harlem” and “Stand by Me”), and for white superstars, such Elvis Presley (“Don’t,” “Hound Dog,” and “Jailhouse Rock”), Peggy Lee (“I’m A Woman” and “Some Cats Know”), and supergroups, such as The Monkees (“D.W. Washburn”).

Conceived by Stephen Helper and Jack Viertel and co-conceived by Otis Sallid and directed by Jerry Zaks, with musical staging by Joey McKneely and additional musical staging by Otis Sallid, Smokey Joe’s Café made its Broadway debut on March 2, 1995 at the Virginia Theatre, ran for 2,036 performances, and closed on Jan. 16, 2000. The show was nominated for seven 1995 Tony Awards®, including Best Musical, Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Victor Trent Cook), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Brenda Braxton, B.J. Crosby, and DeLee Lively), Best Choreography (Joey McKneely), and Best Direction of a Musical (Jerry Zaks). The original Broadway cast recording of Smokey Joe’s Café won the 1995 GRAMMY Award for Best Musical Show Album.

Tanea Reneé notes, “There is really no plot to [Smokey Joe’s Café]…. It’s a musical revue, but there is a [dramatic] through line. There’s a story being told in each song. [The show] starts off with everybody singing in the neighborhood as friends. As the show goes on, everyone tells their individual stories. Then, at the end, everybody’s back in the neighborhood again….

“Most people know all of these songs,” says Reneé. “They grew up with them…. It’s really fun to see everybody’s reaction to the show. The music’s great; and we have a really, really talented cast.”

Reneé won’t know whether she will go on opening night or any other night until the last minute. “It depends on how this weekend goes,” she explains. “But [the audience will] know it if I hit the stage. I’m very rambunctious. I light up the stage in a different way.”

Reneé says she performs in the “Jailhouse Rock” sequence every other performance. When she substitutes for one of two other actresses, there will be an announcement just before the curtain rises on Act 1.

“I only go on when someone is sick,” says Tanea Reneé, “which can be pretty often between two girls. But lately it hasn’t been, and that’s just fine.”

Broadway Series South presents Smokey Joe’s Café Tuesday-Friday, April 5-8, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 9, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 10, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $14-$54. BTI Center Box Office: 919/831-6060. Groups of 20 or More: 919/857-4565 or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/group.html#smokey [inactive 5/05]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/broadway.html [inactive 5/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=8112. Broadway Show: http://www.smokeyjoescafe.com/ [inactive 12/07]. This Tour: http://www.phoenixontour.com/tours/smokey.html [inactive 7/05]. Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Songwriters Hall of Fame): http://www.songwritershalloffame.org/award_recipient_detail.asp?ceremonyId=12&awardRecipientId=88 [inactive 5/05].