A red brick room, illuminated by bright lights, with a band that moves on and off the stage is the setting for the Off-Broadway revival of Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller, now playing at Stage 42.
The revue features 40 infectious and easily identifiable numbers, performed by Dwayne Cooper, Emma Degerstedt, John Edwards, Dionne D. Figgins, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz (though I saw her standby Antoinette Comer), Kyle Taylor Parker, Jelani Remy, Max Sangerman, and Alysha Umphress. In the 90 minutes of the show, we are treated to incredible performances from all the cast, culminating in a roaring rendition of "Stand By Me" that immediately puts the audience on their feet, only to be followed by the encore, "Saved".
Despite having no narration, just one song after another, the show feels anything but repetitive, keeping everyone cheering after each number. The brilliant direction and choreography from Joshua Bergasse adds a burst of energy and emotion into each song when necessary, and arguably makes each one a showstopper.
The costumes by Alejo Vietti and the lighting design by Jeff Croiter are top notch, but the tenth star of the show is truly Beowulf Borritt's set. The two level brick scenery is emblazoned with beer signs, and adorned with old radios alongside iron staircases and a circular bar that make it feel as if it was plucked right out New Orleans or Nashville.
The original production opened on Broadway in 1995, defied the critics and stayed open for 5 years. Here's hope that the new production will continue to bless audience for much longer.