‘Joe’s Cafe’ is smoking hot

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By Andrea R. Solis

(hken jacques photography and moonlight stage productions)

By Andrea R. Solis

Bebop, DooWop, and classic pop.

The toe-tapping tunes of the ’50s and ’60s are brought to life in Performance Riverside’s production of “Smokey Joe’s Café.”

The opening night performance on March 31 took a predominantly mature audience, most of whom are season ticket holders, and transported them back to their youth when hemlines were longer, men’s hair was shorter and music moved the masses even without MTV.

“It’s our era. We love it,” said Barb Belding.

However, there is definitely no age requirement to be able to enjoy this music. Theater-goers of all ages will be able to recognize most of the songs in the show including “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog,” “On Broadway,” “Poison Ivy” and “Love Potion No. 9” among others.

The orchestra, led by conductor Don Le Master, does a stellar job with its renditions of the Leiber and Stoller songs around which the musical revue is built.

It would have been enjoyable just to listen to the orchestra alone, but then you would miss out on the amazing vocals delivered by the ensemble cast.

The male quartet numbers like “Searchin’,” “Little Egypt” and “Keep on Rollin'” were among the best, but just when you thought that the men had stolen the show, a female ballad like Destiny Lofton’s “Don Juan” or Vonetta Mixson’s reprise of “Fools Fall in Love” will blow you away.

All four women seized the spotlight during the soulful “I’m a Woman” number in which the exclusive talents of womanhood are proclaimed with a vengeance. Their delivery earned the loudest applause of the evening.

The show was entertaining beyond its musical accomplishments.

Quite a bit of comedy was incorporated into the way that some of the songs were performed and the crowd could be heard giggling gleefully throughout the performance.

In addition, the stylized choreography lent authenticity to the era being reincarnated and helped the older audience members to remember when they were there and making younger ones like myself wish that they had been.

At the very least, every girl will want to learn how to do the “Shimmy” the way that Charna Felthous does, and every guy will want to watch.

Couples’ dancing is not forgotten as Ditanyon Demps and Lofton gracefully glide through Spanish Harlem with almost ethereal elegance.

“I love music and dancing,” said Donna Cady of Hemet, “(The show is) very enjoyable. It’s uplifting. My friend doesn’t laugh very much but he is laughing through this one. He has been bringing me here for 21 seasons. We have season tickets.”

The cast brought the audience to its feet as they clapped along during the closing number “Stand by me”.

The spirit of the show was infectious and energizing.

As the crowd left the theater people with walkers and canes could be seen dancing up the aisles and bobbing their heads to the exit music.

“Smokey Joe’s Café” is one of the longest running musicals for good reason. With its timeless music it is hard to imagine that it will ever lose its appeal.

Remaining performances at the Landis Performing Arts Center include April 7, 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. as well as two matinees April 8, and 9 at 2 p.m.

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