Smokey Joe's Cafe is a musical revue showcasing 39 pop standards, including rock and roll and rhythm and blues songs written by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The Original Broadway cast recording, Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs Of Leiber And Stoller, won a Grammy award in 1997.
After a Los Angeles tryout, the revue opened on Broadway in 1995, running for 2,036 performances, making it the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history. It also had a London run in 1996.
In revue format with no unifying theme, the 39 songs are presented by various members of the cast in various combinations, with no dialogue. There are novelty songs ("Charlie Brown"), romantic ballads ("Spanish Harlem"), and infectious melodies ("There Goes My Baby").
Music and lyrics for all songs are by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, unless otherwise noted. The song "Smokey Joe's Cafe" is not performed in the show, although a brief instrumental excerpt is used in Act II as transitional music.
Smokey Joe's Cafe was conceived by Stephen Helper, Jack Viertel, and Otis Sallid. Presented in a revue format with no unifying theme, it showcases 39 songs, sung by members of the cast in various combinations, with no dialogue. The musical had its world premiere at the Doolittle Theatre in Los Angeles, where it ran from November 1994 to January 22, 1995.
The revue opened on Broadway on March 2, 1995 at the Virginia Theatre and closed on January 16, 2000 after 2,036 performances. Directed by Jerry Zaks with choreography by Joey McKneely, the nine person cast featured Ken Ard, Adrian Bailey, Brenda Braxton, Victor Trent Cook, B. J. Crosby, Pattie D'Arcy Jones, DeLee Lively, Frederick B. Owens, and Michael Park. Throughout its run, there were special appearances by many popular singers, including Ben E. King (December 1998), Pam Tillis (April 1999), Gladys Knight (May 1999), Tony Orlando (June 1999), Lou Rawls (April 1999), Gloria Gaynor (August 1999) and Rick Springfield (October 1999). Gladys Knight also appeared in the tour when it played Boston in February 2000, and a production at Caesar's Palace Circus Maximus, Las Vegas in March–June 2000. The final Broadway performance was filmed and later released on DVD in 2001.
It premiered in the West End at the Prince of Wales Theatre on October 1, 1996 and ran through October 1, 1998. Zaks directed and McKneely choreographed, with some of the Broadway cast (Cook, Lively, and Crosby) repeating their roles.The Arena Stage in Washington, DC produced the revue, directed by Randy Johnson and choreographed by Parker Esse, opening on April 25, 2014 and running through June 8, 2014.
On February 9, 2014, original cast members Brenda Braxton, Adrian Bailey, DeLee Lively, Frederick Owens, Ken Ard, and Michael Park, Deb Lyons, Darryl Williams, and Ramona Keller reunited for a performance at New York's 54 Below as part of the "54 Sings Series" under direction of Braxton.
The revue was also produced in Argentina by G&C Entertainment, directed by Alejandro Guevara, musical direction by Daniel Landea, vocal coching by Katie Viqueira and choreographed by Delfina García Escudero. It has its opening at "Teatro La Comedia" on September 7, 2015 through November 19, 2015. The Argentinian Cast includes Belén Cabrera (B.J.), Cristian Centurión (Adrian), Mariano Condoluci (Victor), Emmanuel Degracia (Ken), Daniela Flombaum (Pattie), Diego Jaraz (Michael), Patrissia Lorca (DeLee), Sofía Val (Brenda) and Sebastián Ziliotto (Fred).
In 2016, a production took place in a new season in Buenos Aires, Argentina, directed by Diego Jaraz, musical supervision by Federico Vilas, vocal coching by Katie Viqueira, and choreographed by Delfina Garcia Escudero. It had its opening night at Sala Siranush on May 6, 2016, closing on June 24, 2016. This Argentinian cast included Belén Cabrera (B.J.), Cristian Centurión (Adrian), Mariano Condoluci (Victor), Emmanuel Degracia (Ken), Daniela Flombaum (Pattie), Patricio Wittis (Michael), Patrissia Lorca (DeLee), Sofía Val (Brenda) and Sebastián Ziliotto (Fred). This Argentinian production had 4 ACE Awards nominations, and 7 Hugo Awards nominations.
In 2018, Smokey Joe's Cafe was revived by the original producers, Steven Baruch, Marc Routh, Richard Frankel and Tom Viertel. The production runs at the Ogunquit Playhouse, Maine, between May 16 to June 9. The production will then open Off-Broadway at Stage 42, with previews beginning July 6, and the official opening on July 22. Choreography and direction is by Joshua Bergasse, with scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, original vocal arrangements by Chapman Roberts, and orchestrations by Steve Margoshes and Sonny Paladino.
The theatre critic for the magazine Variety, in reviewing the Los Angeles tryout, noted that "the songwriters, director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Joey McKneely don't do enough packaging of the material, don't go far enough taking songs first heard on transistor radios and re-imagining them for the stage...There are a couple of halfhearted attempts at structure. The show opens and closes with the 1974 obscurity "Neighborhood," which suggests this will be a scrapbook of memories."Ben Brantley, in his review for The New York Times wrote that the revue "is a strangely homogenized tribute to one of popular music's most protean songwriting teams...There has obviously been a decision not to go for literal period nostalgia, so the songs are freed from their distinctive original contexts...Too often, though, the performers are simply singing into space without any ostensible reason for being there."The theatre critic for The Guardian (London), noted that the London cast consists of "acting singers rather than singing actors, which suits a show where there's almost no acting to be done. Whew - no pesky plot development or subtexts, just a glut of glowing pop tunes...There's no attempt at chronology, or even biography."According to Peter Marks, reviewing in the Washington Post, the revue "never quite attained smash-hit status," but it made popular the musical fashioned on the existing work of "pop composers already beloved by baby boomers."
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
Smokey Joe's Cafe at the Internet Broadway Database