Music is a universal language that connects us all, and that is proven true with Smokey Joe’s Café, the second show in Gateway Playhouse’s summer season. From start to finish, this rock n’ roll musical revue is captivating, stunning and roaring fun. If you love music, you will love Gateway’s production of Smokey Joe’s Café.
The show itself is a tribute to legendary songwriters Mike Leiber and Jerry Stoller, who were known for their storytelling through songs. Their lyrics are full of sarcasm, humor and emotion. The rhythms are catchy and familiar, with songs made famous by the likes of Elvis Presley.
The cast is made up of nine extraordinarily talented performers, joined by Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame stars, The Coasters, which makes the show even more amazing. Rock legends performing tunes that made them famous decades ago, right on the stage in Bellport, singing their hearts out—priceless.
Smokey Joe’s Café is a musical revue, so there is no plot or storyline to follow; the company goes through each number seamlessly. I felt a connection with the cast from the start, a palpable energy that radiated from their voices and their movements. These are vocalists who love their craft, and that kind of passion catches you and makes you sit up straighter and listen more intently. It’s so much fun watching and listening to a perfectly connected cast—it’s the kind of performance you wish would never end.
Although the entire cast was phenomenal, there were a few that really stood out to me. I’m a sucker for a man who can sing, and the voice that came out of Robert H. Fowler was like warm honey. He has a deep baritone that I couldn’t get enough of, and it’s showcased in “Stay A While” and in “You’re the Boss”—a duet with the lovely and talented Marla McReynolds. I loved her sultry routine “Don Juan,” which was smoky, sexy and irresistibly funny.
I was blown away by the voice of Nik Alexzander. He may be small in stature, but there’s nothing small about his voice or his stage presence. In his solo “I (Who Have Nothing)” he blew the audience away and received a standing ovation at the end of his performance. His emotional connection to the song translated loud and clear, drawing me fully into his rock star performance.
Yvette Monique Clark has one of those powerhouse voices that can blast the roof off a theater. She gave me goose bumps during “Fools Fall in Love” and made me laugh out loud during “Hound Dog.” In “Saved,” the number that takes us to intermission, she is joined by the whole company and together they pull off an extraordinary routine, with so much energy it was difficult not to sing along. I was tapping my foot and clapping along with the cast as they sailed through this number, looking like they were having the time of their lives.
When the women join forces and sing “I’m a Woman” it’s electrifying! Kate McCann has some set of pipes, she hit a few notes that went to the heavens and left my mouth hanging open.
The number “Teach Me to Shimmy” was such fun, and showcased the talents of Seth Danner and Erin McGrath, both amazing singers and, yes, they certainly know how to shimmy.
I enjoyed the routines where all the men sing and dance together—my favorite one was “Broadway,” although “There Goes My Baby” and “Love Potion No. 9” were incredibly fun and entertaining, too.
The addition of The Coasters to Smokey Joe’s Café made the show that much more exciting. They bring soul and flavor to an already exceptional cast. From the band to the costumes and, of course, the performers themselves, this is another Gateway hit that I’ll be talking about for a while.
Up next for Gateway Playhouse is “Mary Poppins,” gracing the stage in Patchogue from July 2–19, and “South Pacific” will be there July 23–August 9. “The Addams Family” closes the season at the theater in Bellport from August 27–September 13. gatewayplayhouse.org, 631-286-0555.