‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ Wafts Into O.C.


Shimmying across Southern California, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” has arrived at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, after a recent stop at L.A.’s Wilshire Theatre.

The touring cast is different from the one at the Doolittle Theatre in 1994, but the effects are largely the same. This nostalgic revue of pop hits by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (and assorted collaborators) begins ultralight, with songs breezing by according to no apparent pattern, gradually solidifying around slightly more difficult emotions by show’s end.

Still, there’s no need for a hankie. A fragment of the potentially unsettling “Riot in Cell Block 9,” which was heard at the Doolittle, is missing, so the show is more frivolous than ever.


Some songs seem to belong on a radio instead of a stage, but Jerry Zaks’ staging and Joey McKneely’s choreography make a strong case to the contrary. The touring cast shines in the big moments but occasionally looks a bit perfunctory.

Reva Rice brings an especially welcome note of silky sophistication to her solo turns in “Don Juan” and “Some Cats Know.” Alltrinna Grayson has the pipes for dual interpretations of “Fools Rush In” and a fierce blast of “Hound Dog.” Kim Cea does “Pearl’s a Singer” in convincing honky-tonk spirit. Mary Ann Hermansen causes “Trouble” and shakes up a storm in the shimmying outfit designed by William Ivey Long. All the women rouse the crowd with “I’m a Woman.”

Darrian C. Ford is the little guy who goes “Shoppin’ for Clothes,” and Ashley Howard Wilkinson is the tall bass; both display smooth moves and big voices. Eugene Fleming and Rice provide the show’s dance highlight in “Spanish Harlem.” Dwayne Clark capably leads many of the men’s quartets, and Jerry Tellier gets “Jailhouse Rock” going. Reggie Royal’s onstage band has a gratifying moment in the spotlight.

* “Smokey Joe’s Cafe--The Songs of Leiber and Stoller,” Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tuesday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $19-$49.50 (714) 556-ARTS, (714) 740-7878. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.