Smokey Joe's Café
Indianapolis Civic Theatre
Directed by J. Kevin Butler
Through Feb. 13
Smokey Joe's Café, the musical revue of '50s and '60s music by rock and roll collaborators Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, is fun because director J. Kevin Butler has infused the show with characterization and personality, wonderfully complimented with cute choreography by Michael Worcel. Mark Powers, Matt Gibson, Phillip Armstrong and Darrin Gowan (left to right) form a quartet in 'Smokey Joe's Café' at the Civic.
Instead of getting a large cast of stationary singers - a slump any revue can fall into - the cast bops around the stage, giving life and energy to the songs. Choreography is especially utilized in songs such as "Young Blood," "Dance with Me" and "Poison Ivy." "Shoppin' for Clothes" uses giant dancing suits and "I'm a Woman" exudes the feminine power that song is about - strong ways to convey not just the music, but the stories the songs are telling.
Overall, the cast is exemplary. Not every song hits its mark - "On Broadway" showed potential to be one of the best numbers, but needs more work - but the hits outnumber the misses. The quartet of men for songs such as "Keep on Rollin'" and "Searchin'" really takes you back to the days of poodle skirts, and the back-to-back "Treat Me Nice" by Phillip Armstrong and "Hound Dog" by Mari Stratton was a perfect blend of expert vocalization and the characterization that gives the show its appeal. (Stratton, by the way, outdid herself in the highly comical "Dance with Me.")
The orchestra, led by the vibrant Brent Marty, is on stage and never missed a beat. The same can't be said for the costuming, which was too often remarkably unflattering.
This is one revue that moves quickly and doesn't get bogged down by its own sense of importance: Entertainment is the key here.
Smokey Joe's Café continues at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre through Feb. 13. Call the Civic, 3200 Cold Spring Road on the campus of Marian College, at 923-4597, www.civictheatre.org.