THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2021 AT 10:32PM
By Cindi Sansone-Braff
A Smoking Hot Show at the John W. Engeman Theater
A year and a half after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the theater industry, Northport’s beloved Engeman Theater is alive and well and thrilled to reopen their Main Stage, with Smokey Joe’s Cafe, a musical revue by the legendary songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Was the audience happy to be back watching live theatre? Did they like the show? Saturday evening’s rousing standing ovation says it all. This Grammy award-winning and Tony Award-nominated hit show runs now through Halloween.
The original Broadway production at the Virginia Theatre, directed by Jerry Zaks, opened on March 2, 1995. This classic jukebox musical was the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history. The mega-hit collection of some of the greatest songs of the past century is the primary reason this show remains an audience favorite. Many of these chart-topping hits were originally performed by musical legends like Elvis Presley, Ben E. King, The Coasters, and The Drifters.
Like most musical revues, Smokey Joe’s Cafe doesn’t have a unifying theme, dialogue, or book. However, it does have unforgettable tunes, robust dance numbers, non-stop 1950’s nostalgia, pulsating energy, and sensational vocals. The wide range of musical genres, including folk, gospel, country, blues, R&B, doo-wop, and rock’ n’ roll, had the audience clapping, hooting, and toe-tapping throughout the evening. The superb cast seemed to be having as much fun on stage performing these classic song and dance numbers as the audience had watching them.
Director and Choreographer Deirdre Goodwin imbued this sizzling production with an overabundance of heart, soul, and humor. The dazzling period costumes by David Withrow and the expertise of the formidable band gave the show added pizzazz.
For this show, two understudies with star power, Alysha Morgan as Delee and ElizabethYetunde Adabale as B.J., stepped in to fill the roles that Alia Munsch (Delee) and Kai Brittani White (B.J.) regularly perform.
Alysha Morgan’s “Teach Me How to Shimmy” performance was a real showstopper, and her spectacular white beaded costume accented her energetic shimmies. She also delivered an emotion-packed version of “Falling.”
Elizabeth Yetunde Adabale gave Elvis a run for his money as she belted out “Hound Dog,” and her marvelous voice, with unbelievable range and control, thrilled the audience with her powerful rendition of “Fools Fall in Love.”
Tasheim Ramsey Pack, as Adrian, displayed his impressive vocal range when he sang the classic “Stand by Me,” and when the company joined him on stage, they revealed their pitch-perfect harmonies.
“Jailhouse Rock” was, for me, the highlight of the evening. The unstoppable powerhouse, Jeff Sullivan as Michael, astounded the audience with his Elvis-like gyrations, energized interpretation of this blockbuster hit, and his athletic prowess as he shinnied down a long pole. During the finale, he wowed the audience as he raced back up the pole in record time.
“Yakety Yak” and “Charlie Brown” were two upbeat, animated, funny song-and-dance numbers, where the entire company got to strut their stuff. These songs also gave Brian Maurice Kinnard as Fred a chance to show off his physical comedy skills. Throughout the show, Mr. Kinnard’s immense talents were evident. He has a rich, lyric baritone voice and his versatile dance moves, including a quick split, were most impressive.
Christopher Brasfield was charismatic as Victor and killed the song, “I (Who Have Nothing).” He moved the audience with the raw emotion that spilled out of him with every heartrending word and piercing falsetto cry he uttered.
Mars Rucker played Brenda and gave a soaring solo with a sultry, mesmerizing performance of “Some Cats Know.”
“Saved,” a gospel revival number sung by Elizabeth Yetunde Adabale and company, ignited the audience with their colorful costumes, fun props, lively dance sequence, and strong vocals.
Francesca Ferrari portrayed Pattie and gave an unforgettable performance during “I Keep Forgettin.” Her voice was raw, biting, and soulful. Ms. Ferrari gave a stand-out performance with her rendition of the ballad “Pearl’s a Singer.”
Devinré Adams as Ken showed his strengths as both a singer and a dancer during his stunning performance of “Spanish Harlem.”
This great date-night, family-friendly show is a crowd-pleaser and highly entertaining. You don’t want to miss it! You may purchase tickets by calling (631) 261-2900 or online at www.EngemanTheater.com or in person at the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.
Cindi Sansone-Braff is an award-winning playwright. She has a BFA in Theatre from UCONN and is a member of the Dramatist Guilds. She is the author of two self-help books, Grant Me a Higher Love and Why Good People Can’t Leave Bad Relationships.