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August 4, 2015 > Smokey Joes Cafe offers pleasing musical menu

Smokey Joes Cafe offers pleasing musical menu

By Julie Grabowski

Need a break from the worry and bustle of life? Chanticleers Theatre invites you to stop into Smokey Joes Cafe for a little musical rejuvenation.

There is no real storyline or theme to Smokey Joes Cafe, its simply an almost 40-song playlist celebrating Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who created some of the most popular and enduring music of their era. You know Stand By Me, On Broadway, Hound Dog, and Jail House Rock? Yep, thats them.

Director and producer Mike Kasin has put together a fluid and winning production with a solid cast of 10 (Larri Patterson Parms-Ford mysteriously absent) for a feel-good night of song. Kasin gives a bit of shape to the show by setting Act I in an every-town neighborhood and the second in Smokey JoeÕs Cafe, where the wonderful live band emerges from behind the curtain to become part of the action.

Kaylyn Dowd draws instant attention in Trouble and delivers an outstanding performance in Don Juan with excellent vocals and a playful, sexy character which secures her as the star of the evening. Any slivers of doubt are firmly put to rest as Dowd goes solo again with the alluring Some Cats Know and, goodness me, this girl knows! Her confident, magnetic presence is a show stealer.

Gemma Bulos and Shauna Shoptaw show spirit and vocal power throughout, notably for Bulos in ÒPearlÕs a SingerÓ and Shoptaw in ÒHound Dog.Ó The two also make an impression in ÒKansas CityÓ alongside the solid rock of Tyrone Woodrow. Woodrow looks a little unsure on stage, but his voice is a dependable beauty.

Elmer Strasser is like the class cut-up, jumping into characters with an unhesitating zest and is definitely having fun in numbers like ÒSearchin.ÕÓ

The company closes out Act I on a high note with ÒSavedÓ where Noel Thomas comes alive in the reverend role and thrills with his voice and energy. Thomas continues to have fun in ÒTeach Me How to ShimmyÓ and absolutely wows with ÒI, Who Have Nothing.Ó

Often in the show youÕre cruising along on pleasant performances, then one of the cast will break out and step it up a notch, such as Zachary David Marshall in Little Egypt and Jail House Rock. Everyone gets their moment, from the lovely and sweet ÒFallingÓ by Mary Troxell, Robert SholtyÕs entreating ÒDance With MeÓ to an audience member, and the picked on Chris Ciabattoni in ÒCharlie Brown.Ó

The songs featuring harmony of the men are the most enjoyable, but the women throw down a hard hitting ÒIÕm a WomanÓ with powerful vocals and attitude making it a highlight of the show.

ÒShoppinÕ for ClothesÓ is the one number that falls flat; it is the only spot of pure dialogue and no singing in the show, and though the mannequins are a bit fun, it comes off as pointless and unnecessary.

Lynn HansonÕs costumes are subtle and fitting, and the simple but engaging set design by Kasin and Georgia Lee is a bright and welcoming invitation in.

ItÕs a tall task to offer up a continuous stream of songs for a couple of hours, but Chanticleers puts on an impressive evening at ÒSmokey JoeÕs Cafe,Ó making you glad that you stopped by this neighborhood.

Smokey JoeÕs Cafe
Friday, Jul 31 - Sunday, Aug 30
8 p.m.; Sundays at 6 p.m.
Chanticleers Theatre
3683 Quail Ave, Castro Valley
(510) 733-5483
Tickets: $24 adult, $20 senior/student

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