We used to attend the Folklife Festival at Seattle Center each year. We loved picking a venue from multiple ones and watching various groups and singles entertain us. If you didn't appreciate one, you simply had to wait a few minutes for the next one. It's the same with Smokey Joe's Café. Although the top hit song writing team of Leiber and Stoller produced forty Top Ten hits in the ‘50s and ‘60s; everyone has their favorites, and not all songs are for everyone. But, believe me, there are plenty of moments to love in Tacoma Little Theatre's production of the Leiber/Stoller musical revue Smokey Joe's Café. Once the lights went down and the music began it took three of four songs before I realized I wasn't even holding Peggy's hand. That was the only thing I was missing.
Keeping up with the tradition of naming special intermission cocktails after special moments in each play; TLT brings us "Love Potion #9" a song written in 1959 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and performed by The Clovers along with song "Poison Ivy" also by Leiber and Stoller, but performed by The Coasters. You can pre-order your drinks before the show, so you don't have to wait in line during intermission.
Pre-ordering is really important, since I'm guessing each performance will be pretty much sold out. The Sunday performance we attended only had a few empty seats left . . . and they weren't choice.
I'm bringing more than fifty people from The Rotary Club of Tacoma #8 and Lakewood Rotary. I think Peg and I will go at least one more time before our June group date.
The applause, whistles and cheers started early with "Neighborhood" and "Young Blood." Peg and I had many favorite songs and many favorite moments from the Sunday performance. We both really enjoyed Kawika Huston. It was surprising to see that he's a graduate of the University of Puget Sound. We used to go to all the musicals and the senior plays; evidently, we haven't been to performances by the School of Music in some time! We used to go all the time. Peg and I met while attending UPS.
Kawika is pursuing a Masters degree in mental health counseling at UPS, so we may see him performing there again. We hope. He did a great job with "Dance with Me" and "Spanish Harlem."
Kawika was one of The Guys: Kawika Huston, Eric Clausell, Jermaine Lindsay, Bruce Haasl, and Loucas Curry. They danced, sang, and had a great time. "Keep on Rollin" was a surprise. I didn't recall it, but loved it. Apparently, it was the "B" side of the hit "Little Egypt." I don't know how The Guys kept up with the pace. They didn't just step in time to the music, they were dancing all over the place.
The Women were Ashley Jackson, Ashanti Proctor, Nancy Hebert, and Melanie Gladstone. They did their best to keep up, but The Guys had most of the workload with hit after hit. There were more songs for men than there were for women.
One of the outstanding numbers for The Women coincidentally was "I'm a Woman." The anchor position of the song was held down by Nancy Hebert, ". . . got a twenty dollar gold piece says, There ain't nothin I can't do, I can make a dress out of a feed bag, And I can make a man out of you."
Nancy has a B.A. in Theater Arts from UW and is teaching in the Puyallup School District. She also sings with Seattle Opera. She did a great job also on the moving song "Don't." I'll be looking for the sheet music for that one plus another of her solos, the plaintive "Pearl's a Singer." Both were new to me.
Luck of the draw, I guess . . . Ashley Jackson sang “Some Cats Know” that we didn't like. No reflection on her, and she had a look of askance that, with one eyebrow, could cut braggadocio. We did love Ashanti Proctor, with her Aretha-like take in “Saved.” We’d also enjoyed her at the Centerstage production of “Ain’t Misbehavin.”
Melanie Gladstone was the obvious dancer of the group. She moved nicely especially in "Spanish Harlem," but she stole the show in “Teach Me How to Shimmy” with her Go-Go fringe dress. She was the one with the great legs. She also has a great voice, but in an effort to not dominate group songs, sang a little too softly. She could belt with the best of them.
Loucas Curry danced and sang "Treat Me Nice" as he tried to get the attention of Ashanti Proctor. His exaggerated faux Elvis moves didn't impress Ashanti (but they were funny), who only gave him attitude in return. She responded with a nice bluesy version of "Hound Dog." "Hound Dog" was the first Leiber & Stoller major hit. Supposedly Jerry Leiber called Mike Stoller and told him they had a hit record with "Hound Dog." Stoller replied, "Hound Dog, the Big Mama Thornton record?" And Leiber says, "No, a version by some kid named Elvis Presley." And Stoller asked, "Elvis who?"
Leiber & Stoller songs made famous by Elvis and The Coasters could have taken up more than one act just by themselves.
The first record album I ever purchased was "Elvis' Golden Records." The album contained "Hound Dog," "Love Me," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Treat Me Right" all of which were written by Leiber & Stoller and performed in Smokey Joe's Café.
Leiber & Stoller hit songs by The Coasters usually had humor in them and The Guys did one after the other to thunderous approval. Mugging his way through nearly every one was Loucas Curry. The production was already on a roll, but when they hit "Searchin" with Loucas in a Holmesian deerslayer hat, carrying a magnifying glass, it was all over.
It wasn't just Loucas, however, The Guys performed. The songs came across like they owned them - well earned praise.
Costume designer Michel Graves did a great job. In “Shoppin for Clothes” Loucas went looking for stylin’, eye catching, dude clothes. As he went in the store, the suit models were three other Guys with the sports coats’ shoulders over their head. The Guys’ models danced and sang. I also really enjoyed Nancy Hebert’s patent leather saddle shoes with a peachy-coral saddle and heels. Michael also did a great job with the va-va-voom dresses and the hair accessories.
Every cast member gave their all and the band was exceptional. Who could ask for anything more? Plan to laugh, clap, tap your feet, cry, and wipe away tears. Smokey Joe's Café runs through June 12th, with 7:30 performances on Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinées at 2. Call the box office at 253-272-2281 for information and tickets. Check out their website tacomalittletheatre.com for the upcoming 98th season.