A tribute to music legends

2012-01-30 00:00

LET me start out by saying I’m a big fan of the National Live Theatre screenings and opera screenings at Ster-Kinekor’s Cinema Nouveau, so it was with a sense of anticipation that I headed to the Umhlanga venue to see Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller, one of the offerings in the company’s new Live from Broadway series.

This music revue dispenses with dialogue and instead focuses solely on music and dance in a two-hour tribute to the music of legendary composers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who described themselves back in the 1950s as a “couple of nice Jewish boys with a passion for black culture”.

The result of that passion was some of the most-loved rock ’n‘ roll tunes from the fifties and sixties including classics like Stand By Me, On Broadway, Poison Ivy, Love Potion No 9, Spanish Harlem, That Is Rock & Roll, Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown and Hound Dog.

In Smokey Joe’s Cafe, all these hits get an airing, alongside some less well-known tunes like the sassy Don Juan, performed by the gorgeous Brenda Braxton, complete with attitude and an enormous feather boa; the very amusing Shoppin’ for Clothes, in which Victor Trent Cook performs with three dancing suits; the torch song, Pearl’s a Singer, performed by Deb Lyons; and the wonderful Saved in which BJ Crosby tries to save Cook’s soul.

Other highlights for me were Ken Ard’s rendition of Spanish Harlem, featuring a contemporary dance duet with Braxton, Adrian Bailey’s performance in Stand By Me and Crosby’s Fools Fall In Love.

What makes this production even more impressive is that the set is minimalist — screens move across the stage to reveal and hide the performers, the band performs behind a see-through back drop and the cast make use of small chairs and tables — and yet you never feel like you’ve missed out on any substance.

Smokey Joe’s was nominated for several Tony Awards during its run on Broadway, and having seen it, I can understand why.

Catch it if you can during its brief run at Cinema Nouveau this week. ****

• Smokey Joe’s Cafe can be seen at 8 pm on February 2 and 4 and at 2.30 pm on February 5 at Cinema Nouveau Gateway in Umhlanga. Also headed to SA screens are the Broadway productions Jekyll and Hyde The Musical , on February 23, 25 and 26. It is the longest running show in the history of Broadway’s Plymouth Theatre, with over 1 500 performances. Putting It Together , a tribute to award winning composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s music, is on April 5, 7 and 8.

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