Theater review: ‘Smokey Joe’s Café’ by Flat Rock Playhouse

Flat Rock Playhouse is performing the rousing musical Smokey Joe's Cafe. Photo by Scott Treadway/Treadshot

Flat Rock Playhouse has a real winner with Smokey Joe’s Café, a showcase of pop tunes written by the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It’s a living, singing, dancing jukebox, filled with memorable songs performed by a nine-member cast and a six-piece band on the Flat Rock mainstage through Saturday, May 13.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Leiber and Stoller were on the top of their game, knocking out hit after hit, recorded by the likes of Elvis, The Drifters, The Coasters and many others. Many remain staples of oldies radio. Smokey Joe’s Café is packed with these feel-good, hand-clapping tunes. Most of the viewers were old enough to remember these tunes when they were new, but just about anyone can enjoy the show. The opening-night audience was enamored with the performance, cheering throughout.

Veteran Flat Rock director Amy Jones has assembled a sharp collection of performers: Breanna Bartley, Phillip Brandon, Dustin Brayley, Meredith Patterson, Patrick Clanton, Alfred Jackson, Wendy Jones, Jared Joseph and Martinia Sykes. Their voices blend in some superb singing that rings through the theater. The band does its part as well: Garrett Taylor and David Gaines on keyboards, Wes Parker on sax, Bill Altman on guitar, Paul Babelay on drums and Michael Hines on bass. The choreography by Christopher D. Kirby is also impressive, bringing even more energy to the stage.

Through the years, Flat Rock scenic designer Dennis Mauldin has created many stunning sets. This is another outstanding bit of work that adds a nice touch to the overall feel of the evening with elements that include back porches and a Manhattan skyline.

The production opens strong with the full company performing “Neighborhood,” which also gets a sweet reprise at the show’s end. Act one begins to cook with “Youngblood,” a 1957 hit for the Coasters. “Kansas City” is another great tune that most will remember — it was a chart topper in 1959. Other winners include “Don Juan,” which pops in a fine bit of singing by Bartley, “On Broadway,” and a rousing version of “Saved” performed by Sykes and the company.

The energy increases in Act two with “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown,” “Love Potion Number Nine,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock” and a smoking closing set that includes “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand By Me.”

Along with Sykes, the other breakout performers are Brandon, a Flat Rock first-timer who displays his rich voice, and Jones, a veteran Flat Rock vocalist, who delivers with “Pearl’s a Singer.”

While the singers all have character names in the playbill, there is no dialogue or even a hint of a story. But with this show, all you need is great singing and music, and this bunch more than come through.

WHAT: Smokey Joe’s Café by Flat Rock Playhouse.
WHERE: Flat Rock Playhouse, 22661 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock.
WHEN: Through through Saturday, May 13. Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $15-$50.




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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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