‘Smokey Joe’s’ a romp of memories
July 2, 2005
It’s difficult to go wrong with a song list like this one – such ’50s and ’60s standards as “Kansas City,” “Poison Ivy,” “On Broadway” and “Stand By Me.”And that’s just a few of the catalog of songs written by noted songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller performed by a cast of seven in the musical revue “Smokey Joe’s Café,” currently being staged by Theatre Aspen at Rio Grande Park.Start with 34 songs that will push your nostalgia button; add in seven players performing clever choreography, displaying well-trained voices and exhibiting youthful vitality and good looks; and the result is a well-crafted revue that takes the audience on a two-hour trip down Memory Lane to a familiar address.For those who store such things away for future use in cocktail party trivia contests, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” was the longest-running revue ever to hit Broadway, playing from March 2, 1995, to Jan. 16, 2000.That means it held its place on the marquee longer than such well-known hits as “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Eubie!” and “Side By Side By Sondheim.”And the Aspen production certainly does ample justice to the creators’ intentions. Aside from a negligible amount of tightness among the players, likely attributable to opening-night jitters, and the occasional glitch in the sound, the June 30 opener was a fine romp through some of the best songs cranked out by two of the more successful mechanics who worked the rock ‘n’ roll factories of that era.The seven players, hailing from around Colorado, the West and the Midwest, blend well in the ensemble pieces, both vocally and in the execution of the sometimes complicated dance steps. They also do well in the occasional solo number. Of special note were several performances by Mary Louise Lee, a Denver native, who steals the show more than once, whether it’s smoking her way through such steamy ballads as “Fools Fall In Love,” or letting it all hang out in a hard driving “I’m A Woman” (the other two women in this number, Gina Vergallito and Andrea Dora Smith, also put in fine turns).Each of the four male players (Laurence Curry, George Jackson III, Joshua Landay and Neil David Seibel) has his particular strengths, both in song and in dance, and there are occasional moments of unevenness in the male ensemble numbers. But in general, both on their own and in ensemble with each other and with the women, the men carry their roles well and have sufficient range to tackle softer love songs and rapid-fire honkytonk with equal panache.”Smokey Joe’s Café” runs through July 30 at the Theatre Aspen tent in Rio Grande Park, with shows on weeknights and weekends. Tickets cost $30 to $35, depending on seating, and all shows are at 7:30 p.m.