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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 6, 2001

'Smokey Joe's Cafe' sizzles on stage

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic

It's all about attitude.

Manoa Valley Theatre's 33rd season opener, "Smokey Joe's Cafe," features cast members (front row) Ka'ohi Yojo and John Bryan, and (back row, from left) Christopher Washington, Marika Dillard, Rand Wilson, Lesley Alexander, Kala'i Stern and Riya Davis.

Advertiser library photo

Well, it doesn't hurt to have excellent voices, sharp choreography, a socko band, and singers that can project emotion all the way to the back row.

When you have all that — and attitude, too — you've got a hit on your hands.

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" is a great way for Manoa Valley Theatre to open it's 33rd season. The show recently closed in New York after five years, making it the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history. It touches all the right memory chords, and its energy is infectious.

The songs are from the '50s and early '60s — trading heavily on doo wop and rock 'n' roll, but with distinct overtones of blues, country and gospel. There's a lot in here that you'll remember, or wish that you did.

Andrew Sakaguchi does an excellent job with direction and choreography. Melina Lillios is musical director, keyboard player, and part-time girl-singer. Lloyd Riford's set is better than it has to be and is filled with quiet surprises. Athena Espania's costumes add welcome visual variety.

But it's the cast that deserves the biggest bouquets.

The men (John Bryan, Kala'i Stern, Chris Washington and Rand Wilson) do fine choral work and have all the slick choreography moves. The women (Lesley Alexander, Riya Davis, Marika Dillard and Ka'ohi Yojo) have the strongest featured solos.

When the full ensemble gets crankin' — especially in the Act I finale — they literally shake the house.

 •  "Smokey Joe's Cafe"

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight,repeats tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 14-15 and 21-22 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 16 and 23 at 4 p.m.; Wednesday, Sept. 13 and 19-20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road

Cost: $30

Information: 988-6131

Buffet dinner 90 minutes before curtain Wednesdays through Saturdays at an extra cost.

The evening also is filled with remarkable individual performances.

Davis' powerful, musical roller-coaster reprise of "Fools Fall in Love" near the end of Act II is show-stopping. Alexander does nearly the same with "I (Who Have Nothing)." Bryan has the looks and the moves that will make him stand out in any chorus and wonderful comic timing on "Treat Me Nice." Stern's marvelous voice makes "There Goes My Baby" much more than a mere lament.

Dillard and Washington's duet on "You're the Boss" is delightfully sexy; Yojo's moves are eye-popping on "Teach Me How to Shimmy"; and Wilson delivers a sweet solo version of "Spanish Harlem," backed up by Yojo and Bryan in a surprisingly touching ballet.

Members of the band get deserved solo spots in "Baby, That is Rock & Roll," with Lillios doing the vocals herself on "Stay A While."

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" is easy to like.

Buy your tickets soon, because the word on the street is that they're selling out.