Every doo-wop and sha-na-na is precisely in place in Mac-Haydn Theatre’s practically perfect production of “Smokey Joe’s Café.” The nine performers in this sharply directed review, all born decades after the early golden years of the birth of rock ’n’ roll, seem to have the music in their souls.
And they wear the vintage ’50s styles as if born to them. They either have an excellent coach in director/choreographer Brian Knowlton or they just naturally connect to the period.
Either way, they are making some joyous theater out in Chatham.
’Smokey Joe’s Cafe’
WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, Route 203, Chatham
WHEN: Through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $30-$28, children 12 and under $12
MORE INFO:392-9292 or www.machaydntheatre.org
I will name these young actors in the order they are listed in the program: Gabe Belyeu (Victor), Christina Carlucci (Brenda), Laura Helm (Pattie), Monte Howell (Fred), Ashley Kelley (BJ), Quinton Menendez (Ken), Leanne Smith (DeLee), Robert Teasdale (Michael) and Jerrial T. Young (Adrian).
Not that their names matter very much. There is no dialogue to slow down this monumental undertaking or to distract from the glorious energy of the music.
There is structure, however, in the form of a scrapbook filled with faded pictures of the “Neighborhood,” which is sung by the company and opens the show. It is a quiet number, filled with nostalgia, recalling the people and places that shaped the lives of the characters. The characters and the music, incidentally, are deeply recognizable to those who came of age in those much celebrated years. Two ladies of a certain age sitting behind me during Saturday’s matinee performance, in fact, recalled one of their favorite lines from the number “Poison Ivy.” When the words “. . . gonna take an ocean of Calamine lotion . . .” came up, they sang it out loudly and clearly and with a great deal of gusto. That’s just the kind of show it is.
There’s no sitting primly listening intently to the dialogue and digesting it for later discussion. Oh no! It’s just pure, unadulterated, in-your-face, in-the-moment fun.
All the songs in the show, more than 30 of them, with the exception of “Spanish Harlem,” were written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It could be argued that these two gentlemen invented rock ’n’ roll. And they drew their wonderful new creation from every imaginable musical genre — from gospel to rhythm and blues, from boogie-woogie to soul.
And the pairing of the songs is often inspired and witty. The first act finale begins with “D.W. Washburn” (Belyeu and company) and ends with the rousing gospel number “Saved” (Kelley and company). And the same two singers create dynamite with “Treat Me Nice” and “Hound Dog.” Kelley displays a remarkably rich voice and gorgeous timing in all of her numbers, but particularly in her reprise of “Fools Fall in Love.”
Smith is sexy and funny in her number “Teach Me How to Shimmy.” Helm’s torchy “Pearl’s a Singer” is haunting and beautiful and Carlucci, a 20-something, seemed to enjoy flirting with the 60-something males in the audience in her marvelous rendition of “Some Cats Know.” The guys in the cast do a terrifically comic, bouncy “There Goes My Baby,” and the company succeeds beautifully with the romantic “Smokey Joe’s Café.”