The entrance and front windows of Smokey Joe's Café are illuminated and open for business on Town Hall's stage as a half-dozen band members take their places inside.
The animated musicians, led by Donna Kolpan Debreceni, begin a non-stop joyous …
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The animated musicians, led by Donna Kolpan Debreceni, begin a non-stop joyous revue of 39 pop standards, including “Yakety Yak,” “Love Potion # 9,” “On Broadway,” “I'm a Woman” “Hound Dog,” (remember the Elvis version?) and more, written for various vocal stars during the long careers of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
The two songwriters met as very young musicians in California, hit it off and worked with soloists, bands, promoters and other composers for many years — creating, recording, promoting music that still rocks.
The Broadway production of “Smokey Joe's Café” was the longest-running musical in Broadway history and it's easy to understand why after an evening at Town Hall Arts Center with the band and high-energy cast, directed by Matthew Peters, who also was the choreographer.
Members of the diverse ensemble first wander on-stage singing a low-key number about “The Neighborhood,” and aside from a brief intermission, they entertain non-stop with two hours of song and dance. No storyline, no dialogue — although most individual songs tell a story of one sort or another: “Young Blood,” Kansas City,” Yakety Yak, “Baby, That is Rock & Roll,” “Teach Me How to Shimmy,” “Jailhouse Rock” …
The audience will recognize many songs, made popular over the years by musicians around the world, but perhaps many were not aware, like this writer, that this talented pair was responsible for such a huge body of work — sometimes in company with other composers. “Spanish Harlem,” written by Phil Spector and Leiber, is the only one where both were not involved, according to the program.
Costumes, designed by Linda Morken, resident designer for BDT Stage, were especially pleasing, playing with black and white in different fabrics and textures, with occasional dashes of bright pink or silver. Sound designer Curt Behm kept the balance between instruments and voices almost all the time, which had to be a bit tricky with the great variety of vocal styles, from belt-it-out to soft and sweet.
Tim Barbiaux's set housed the band and served as backdrop for the singers and dancers, making a big show work in a smallish space.
We noticed that many in the audience were dancing out as the band kept playing and almost all wore a happy smile. If you're seeking a theater experience with deep, dark messages, look elsewhere — but for a pleasing, carefree evening, visit “Smokey Joe's Café.”
If you go
“Smokey Joe's Café” plays through May 1 at Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St. in downtown Littleton. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays and Saturday, April 16. Tickets: $23-$42, 303-794-2787, ext. 5 or townhallartscenter.org/smokey-joes-cafe.
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