Long Wharf Theatre, Main Stage, New Haven: Smokey Joe’s Café is a hot musical revue with great rock and roll numbers. This particular cast has plenty of enthusiasm and does a darn good job of presenting it to the audience. What sets this cast apart from other ensembles who have performed this show is that there is a lot of audience participation here. Sometimes that goes over well, but sometimes it does not. For instance, in the number “Dance with Me” Johnathan Celestin and Dawn Marie Driver really have to coax people from the audience to dance with them. It gets awkward. When Johnathan’s reluctant partner begs out, another member from the audience jumped down to save him, but it created an uncomfortable moment.
What was not uncomfortable were the all too familiar rock and roll hits of Lieber and Stoller. Kansas City, Poison Ivy, Yakety Yak, There Goes My Baby, Stand By Me and many other great songs are performed to the delight of the appreciative audience. Famecia is perfect for this musical, not only because she’s so hot she’s smoking, but she sets fire to every number she performs. Jose Figueroa Jr. is another vocalist who burns each number he sings. When he takes on I (Who Have Nothing), the audience cheers. Also performing in this ensemble are Vida Allworthy, Derrick Baker, Ron Lucas, Jay Rivera, and Stevanie Anita Williams. All deliver on their vocals.
Long Wharf Theatre and Supreme Talent International present the Irving Street Rep’s production of Smokey Joe’s Café. This is a fine summer production, which is light-hearted and upbeat enough to chase away the endless summer storm blues. Even though the show is hot, the theater is beautifully cool.
Each member of the production has impressive credentials. “American Idol” fans will be glad to know that Famecia Ward made it to the second round on “American Idol” in 2004. Considering her outstanding performance, one wonders how she didn’t make it to the top ten. Another surprise is that Jose Figueroa is making his debut in Smokey Joe’s Café. What is not surprising is that he has won singing contests and has experience singing with gospel groups. No wonder his songs sounded so heartfelt.
All of the cast members have impressive credits and their performances reflect their experience.
In addition to the talented ensemble, there is an onstage band. It features musicians John Bronston, musical director and pianist, Bruce Jackson on drums, Rick Matt on the saxophone, Jeff Fuller on bass, and Dominic Landolfi on guitar.
This production runs through July 28. Box office: 203-787-4282.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]