Highly Recommended ***** There are some musicals that are NOT classified as plays or musical comedies but in fact are more revues, in which the music of one particular artist , or in fact several, can become a two- hour story based on the music that was written. One of these entertainment productions, as I call them, is “Smokey Joe’s Café”. This showcase of the music of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller ( some 40 songs) has been around for some years and most recently was a solid smash hit in the intimate TheoUbique production in Rogers Park, that moved around from theater to theater. Now, under the clever direction and choreography of Marcia Milgrom Dodge, on the much larger stage of Drury Lane in Oakbrook, we are given a true concert with a small story that allows us to hear the music of these men as powerful pieces.
With musical direction by Roberta Duchak, the songs have been fine tuned to capture some different sounds to songs that have become familiar to many of us over the years. Songs such as “Kansas City”, “On Broadway”, “Keep On Rollin'”, “D.W. Washburn” and “Saved” (these two close the first act with the feeling of attending a revival meeting), “Baby,This Is Rock & Roll”, “Yakety Yak”, “Charlie Brown” “Hound Dog” and many, many more. Just think 40 top songs that are memorable, handled in unique ways that make them seem new, despite knowing every word.
“Pearl’s A Singer” is a knockout punch delivered by the amazing Meghan Murphy ( who is as sexy as she is talented), and Donica Lynn hits notes that one can only dream about. How can she do two shows a day? Justin Keyes is another performer who can dance and sing, never missing a beat and I doubt that he even shows a sweat. In fact, this entire ensemble is a powerhouse of movers and shakers (there are some really big shakers when they “Shimmy”). Carrie Abernathy, Sean Blake, Amy Orman, Tyrone L. Robinson, Chris Sams and Will Skrip. NINE, yes, only nine bring these 40 plus songs to life during this magical two hours.
What they have done to the story-line is taken us away from the café itself and placed us on Maxwell Street, the open air (also referred to as outside) sort of flea market of the mid-1950’s. The street is one block South of Roosevelt Road (well maybe in actuality a long half block) and the main intersection was Halsted (800 west). This is the University Village Area today and the open market is long gone (having moved to Canal and Roosevelt on week-ends only). Along Halsted in this era , there was a store named Smokey Joe’s. Men’s high fashion/style clothes where I had the pleasure of working at in 1957. Years before that I worked on the street selling hair tonic for Lenny Palmer, pants for Jerry and even had a novelty “stand” where we sold jewelry and leather goods. A stand was a small table like structure, portable in nature, that could be set-up every Saturday and Sunday in the middle of the street. Only, if you paid the small fee to Mr. Cherry, the street master. Kevin Depinet’s set depicted the flavor of the street, although the smell of grilled onions and the salami of Lyons Deli would have truly brought back some fond memories.
The costumes (Sully Ratke), lighting (Paul Miller), sound (Ryan Hickey) and props (Cassy Schillo) all work to make this a special evening of entertainment. A “must see” to put on your schedule. By the way- a tip of the hat to the Maxwell Street Band under the direction of Chris Sargent; Alex Beltran (Sax), Buddy Fambro (on guitar), Chuck Webb (bass) and Ben Johnson (percussion) amazing sounds from amazing talents!
“Smokey Joe’s Café” will continue at Drury Lane Theatre located at 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace thruOctober 23rd with performances as follows:
Thursdays 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 5 and 8:30 p.m.
Sundays 2 and 6 p.m.
Tickets range from $45- $60
special senior (matinee’s $40) students as well as dinner/show packages (the food is great) to order yours or get more info call the box office at 630-530-0111 or visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com
you can also call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Smokey Joe’s Café”
2 hours ten minutes including one 15 minute intermission.
Plenty of free parking on premises as well as Valet parking.