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SMOKEY’S JOE’S CAFÉ at MusicalFare is a cleverly directed trip down memory lane.

THE BASICS: SMOKEY’S JOE’S CAFÉ: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller, is a musical revue directed by John Fredo, starring Brian Brown, Nicole Marrale Cimato, Dudney Joseph, Jr., Ben Michael Moran, Lorenzo Shawn Parnell, Victoria Perez, Michele Marie Roberts, Marc Sacco, and Zoe Scruggs. It runs through March 11, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 (you’ll be out by 9:00), Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at both 3:30 & 7:30, with Sunday matinees at 2 at MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main Street, Amherst (839-8540). Full service bar in the well-appointed “Premier” lounge, ample parking on the Daemen College campus (tip: enter from Getzville Drive rather than Main Street). Runtime: Two hours with one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Smokey Joe’s Café is a musical revue (no storyline, although each song is directed as a skit) with 39 songs by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in popular 1950s styles including rhythm and blues (Young Blood, Searchin’), rock’n’roll (Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock), ballads and anthems (On Broadway, Spanish Harlem, Stand By Me) and pop/novelty numbers (Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown). The show has been wonderfully choreographed by John Fredo with many, many little bits of schtick, from simple eye-rolling to full-body lifts, mostly with a nod to the eternal “battle of the sexes” which, in this musical, the ladies usually win, to the delight of the audience.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Director John Fredo is a thinker; he never just phones it in. He’s always adding little extras so that if an actor is on stage, that actor is busy and engaged. And, kudos to Fredo, he assigns action appropriate to the actor so that there are no awkward moments. Combined with a good set (we can see the band behind a black scrim) under a huge neon “Smokey Joe’s Café” sign, there are four hanging panels which the cast manipulates to conceal and reveal throughout the evening. With no dialog to slow things down, it is truly non-stop from start to finish (actually 40 numbers including a reprise at the end of “Baby, That is Rock & Roll”).

The very experienced cast – 5 men and 4 women – celebrates diversity in race, ethnicity, age, and physical appearance but one thing unites them all – this is not their first rodeo and they can sing and dance, and that’s what this evening is all about.

The very experienced cast – 5 men and 4 women – celebrates diversity in race, ethnicity, age, and physical appearance but one thing unites them all – this is not their first rodeo and they can sing and dance, and that’s what this evening is all about.

Having said that, the ensemble numbers were, in general, more satisfying than the solos. Nothing “sweetens” the voice more than having backup singers. Producers use double tracking for a reason. So, whether or not the original score calls for it, I would add a few extra voices to many of the solos.

A few more quibbles: The tenor sax intonation and timbre were not what I expected and in the opening number, the sophisticated Ben Michael Moran was costumed in what looked like an older cousin-from-the-country’s hand-me-downs. What was that all about?

FUN FACTS: Over their career, Leiber and Stoller wrote or co-wrote over 70 charted hits. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

UP NEXT: MusicalFare returns to Shea’s 710 Theatre for SPRING AWAKENING, a story of young star-crossed love, March 8 through 18. Coming next to the MusicalFare stage in Amherst is ONCE, the award winning musical about an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music (April 25 – May 27). And, there are a number of one time “cabaret” shows in the lounge, including evenings with Drew Fornarola (February 26) and Phil Sims Big Band (March 23).

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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