Directed and Choreographed by Brenda Didier
Musical Direction by Jeremy Ramey
Presented by Theo Ubique Cabaret at the Royal George Theater
Smokey Joe’s may be little more than plain vanilla, but its lively cast is still plenty sweet.
As of March 16th, The Royal George is home to Theo Ubique’s well-received 2012 production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe. And thus with only minor alterations made between venues, this glossy jukebox review is once again in full swing.
There’s no denying that Smokey Joe’s has immense commercial appeal. Dispensing altogether with the narrative conventions of a book musical, Smokey Joe’s is all revue, featuring near forty pop standards from the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller—responsible for such leviathan-sized hits as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me,” and “On Broadway.” Beyond its slight framing device (suggesting a proverbial “trip down memory lane”), there are no clearly defined characters or events in Smokey Joe’s—in other words, no politics, no social commentary and precious little conflict. Nothing, in other words, which might compromise its broadly conceived commercial appeal to reminiscent baby-boomers. This is thus about as squeaky-clean and sanitized as non-equity theater gets.
If that sounds like a veiled criticism, I suppose it is. But not so much of one that I can’t imagine a viable audience for what director/choreographer Brenda Didier and her talented cast are offering here. Presenting a veritable panoply of musical styles, these animated songsters crash through near every conceivable genre—from country to blues to gospel to rock & roll—all with a winking good humor and plenty of energy.
Didier’s choreography is spirited and lively enough, even within the narrow confines of the performance space. The ensemble’s rowdy rendition of “Saved”—led by the charismatic Robin K. Dasilva—is a notable high point, including stand out vocal performances from Justin Adair (“Ruby Tuesday”), Kasey Alfonso (“I Keep Forgettin’”), Jaymes Osborne (“Love Me/Don’t”) and Sydney Charles (“I’m a Woman”). Brit-Marie Sivertsen’s dancing sizzles in sequin, her playfully fluid lines wrapping around the stage. And together with Sydney Charles, Steven Perkins’s rendition of “You’re the Boss” is wonderfully charming.
All in all, Smokey Joe’s Cafe manages to be perfectly delightful, even without taking any considerable artistic risks. Buttressed between dinner and an evening of light dancing, it will most certainly serve.
Anthony J. Mangini
Reviewed Sunday, March 17th, 2013.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe runs until August 4, 2013. The Royal George Theater is located at 1641 N. Halstead St., Chicago, IL 60614. Tickets can be obtained through their box office at (312) 988-9000 or at their website. Check out their Theater in Chicago listing at https://www.theatreinchicago.com/smokey-joes-cafe/6154/.