Community Spirit Energizes SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ

Poster by B.K.Myer

There is something delightful about the spirit that sometimes embodies a local community theatre where many performers and crewmembers work hard all week at their day jobs and then spend countless hours nights and weekends preparing an entertainment to gladden the hearts of the hometown crowd. Conroe’s Crighton Players at the Owen Theatre would be a perfect example of what I am describing. Cheerfully directed by Carole Lamont, the current production of Smokey Joe’s Café rides along merrily with essentially no plot, but an abundance of the pleasant words and music from the songs of composers, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller. The time is described as “one night remembered,” and the action takes place in a pleasant neighborhood bar/dance club depicted in the attractive set from designers, Carole & Joey Lamont, and Don Hampton.

The cast of Smokey Joe’s Café
PHOTO by Brad Myer

The energetic cast I mentioned includes Cristy Campobella Neil, Courington, Shana Googer, Jim Heffner, David Herman, Dee Hughes, Creg Kelly, Joey Lamont, Laura Lange, John McDonald, Hunter McMahon, Giny Mendez, Dan Tippen and Beverly Watkins. A strong cast as singers, their talents vary from top-notch to perhaps, here and there, a bottom notch, but there isn’t anyone in this cast that hasn’t put all heart into the performance. The audience of friends, neighbors and visitors seemed to appreciate that, as did I. As Music Director, David McKenery and his terrific six-member DJ MAC BAND glided onstage, a mellow, sweet opener of “Neighborhood” was paired with visual projections of a hometown scrapbook to set the folksy mood. Creg’s snazzy “Youngblood” number featured some of the perky gals in cute costumes (designer, Sue Hayes) and pleasant light choreography that would permeate the show. Adorable Cristy may have had a touch of opening night jitters as she delivered a sweet, “Falling,” that seemed a bit tentative considering her fiery contribution when the gals really strut their stuff for the “I Am Woman” that would come later in the show. Hunter followed as he led the guys with a lusty, full-voiced “Ruby Baby,” that featured some cute dancing. A rhythmic version of “Dance With Me” featured some fine solos like the solid one from Rebecca.

Smooth scene transitions had the guys depicting a pulsing railroad train for a “Keep On Rollin’” that evolved into a powerhouse, “Searchin,’” led by Hunter with some prancing choreography from the guys. There were more pleasant moves for the dynamite trio of David, Ginny & Rebecca with “Kansas City.” Jealousy rears its ugly head as sexy Shana (in a knock-out short red chiffon dress with jeweled straps) mixes it up with Giny in a number aptly titled, “Trouble.” The tunes “Love Me,” and “Don’t” came off as just so-so, and then sassy Dee took the stage for a nice, “Fools Fall in Love,” she would reprise full of passion and high notes in Act Two.  Joey and the guys return for a “Poison Ivy,” that was, in fact, contagious. A great saxophone solo from Don Pope introduced the Latin rhythms of “Don Juan” with its tango-flavored dancing and a fine vocal from Giny. Hunter and Neil added some comic moments for a skit of “Shoppin’ For Clothes,” that was reminiscent of the old I Love Lucybit when Lucy and Harpo Marx do the hilarious mirror image scene. Shana delivers a rousing, “I Keep Forgettin’,” and the energy and movement of the “On Broadway” number that followed looked like a slimnastics class at your local gym.

“I’ll have another!” (L-R) John McDonald & Dan Tippen
PHOTO by Brad Myer

With an odd paper plate ballet in the background, John performs well as the neighborhood drunk in “D.W. Washburn,” but his chance to shine as a singer would come in Act Two with his powerful, “I, Who Have Nothing.” As for Act One, Shana and the full company close it out with the revival-style excitement of, “Saved,” under the twinkling light of a ballroom glitter ball.

Act Two gets right into high gear with “Baby That is Rock & Roll,” as the talented band members were introduced to the audience. A fun-filled “Yakety Yak,” featured more great saxophone work, and there was lots of cheerful nonsense for, “Charlie Brown.” Jim & Dee offer a cute, “Stay A While” duet, and while the guys sing “Teach Me to Shimmy,” director Lamont did exactly that, taking the stage in a pink flapper dress with more fringe than there are stars in the heavens. WOW! Deep-voiced Jim led a tune unfamiliar to me with “You’re the Boss,” and then a warm, “Loving You,” brought the couples out on the dance floor.

Singing and Dancing at Smokey Joe’s
PHOTO: Brad Meyer

Hunter supplies a very Elvisized, “Treat Me Nice,” with sexy gyrations that might have been edited out on the Ed Sullivan Show. And speaking of sexy, how about Rebecca’s red-hot mama version of “Hound Dog” that quickly had the audience clapping along? Then for a comic change of pace, Jim was a hoot performing the hilarious lyric about a stripper known as “Little Egypt.”

The choreographed movements may have been a bit predictable, but the harmonies were swell for the guys’, “There Goes My Baby.” “As for “Love Potion #9,” that was so jazzy it required police action to get things under control. Then Shana’s intro to “Some Cats Know,” reminded one a bit of the style of singer, Barbara Cook. “Jailhouse Rock” was another chance for the cast to dance, and then Creg handled the sensuous rhythms of “Spanish Harlem” as Nancy Bonilla-May was featured as Rose. At last the full cast filled the audience aisles for a “Stand By me” with lots of ensemble harmonies and strong solo moments. If you’re ready for a lighthearted night of fun and music, why not head over to Smokey Joe’s Café?

SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ continues through June 2nd at the Owen Theatre, 225 Metcalf St., Conroe, Texas, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. For tickets and information call 936-539-4090 or visit the website at www.owentheatre.com .

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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One Response to Community Spirit Energizes SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ

  1. johnmcdoco says:

    Mr. Bentley,

    Thank you for the kind words. Community theater is definitely a labor of love. Our payment is in the friends we make during the rehearsals and performances and the joy we receive when the audience responds positively. Our director, Carole Lamont, has emphasized “family” since day one and this group of actors and support folks have become just that. I am sorry this production only runs for two more weeks.

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