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Theater | STAGE REVIEW

Still Smokin'

Cast and venue are new but 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' has some of the snap, crackle and pop of its star tunes.

June 26, 1997|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shimmying across town, "Smokey Joe's Cafe" is back, this time at the Wilshire Theatre, with a July stop planned for Orange County Performing Arts Center.

The cast is different than at the Doolittle Theatre in 1994, but the effects are largely the same. This nostalgic revue of pop hits by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (and assorted collaborators) begins ultra lite, with songs breezing by according to no apparent pattern, then gradually solidifies around slightly more difficult emotions by show's end.

Still, there's no need to bring a hankie. A fragment of the potentially unsettling "Riot in Cell Block 9," which was heard at the Doolittle, is missing, so the show is even more frivolous than ever.

Some of these songs seem to belong on a radio instead of a stage, but Jerry Zaks' staging and Joey McKneely's choreography make a strong case to the contrary. The touring cast shines in the big moments but occasionally looks a bit perfunctory.

Reva Rice brings an especially welcome note of silky sophistication to her solo turns in "Don Juan" and "Some Cats Know." Alltrinna Grayson has the pipes for dual interpretations of "Fools Rush In" and a fierce blast of "Hound Dog." Kim Cea does "Pearl's a Singer" in convincing honky-tonk spirit. Mary Ann Hermansen causes "Trouble" and shakes up a storm in the shimmying outfit designed by William Ivey Long. All the women rouse the crowd with "I'm a Woman."

Darrian C. Ford is the little guy who goes "Shoppin' for Clothes" and Ashley Howard Wilkinson is the tall bass; both display smooth moves and big voices. Eugene Fleming and Rice provide the show's dance highlight in "Spanish Harlem." Dwayne Clark capably leads many of the men's quartets, and Jerry Tellier gets "Jailhouse Rock" going. Reggie Royal's onstage band has a gratifying moment in the spotlight.

* "Smokey Joe's Cafe--The Songs of Leiber and Stoller," Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Ends July 13. $30-$55. (213) 365-3500. July 22-27: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $19-$49.50. (714) 556-ARTS, (714) 740-7878, (213) 365-3500. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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