Chicago Theatre Review
'Smokey Joe's' Lacks the Right Stuff at Open Door
By Devlyn Camp
There should be a disclaimer on the script of Smokey Joe’s Café: “THIS IS NOT A CABARET. THIS IS MUSICAL THEATRE.” If there were, Open Door Theatre would have done it right. Although the show is a simple series of Leiber and Stoller songs, the character work has to be there. On the opening night in their new space, an intimate room, which took 32 months to conceive, the vocals were strong and the cast was enthusiastic, but the entertainment fell short.
McKinley Johnson directs cheesy poses and cliché musical theatre song and dance. Each number ends with back-to-back stances and smiles out to the crowd and one guy jumping off the stage and striking his best “Superstar!” During the numbers, the actors seem a bit lost and accelerate forward with false confidence. They smile and sing, but they’re not there. For such a small space, those poses aren’t even played to the full audience. The middle fifteen seats get the good stuff while stages left and right lean in to see what’s happening on the inside of the cast semi-circle.
Pushing aside the directorial errors, there is some talent hiding in the cast. It’s all in the women. Unfortunately, Smokey Joe’s is primarily led by men’s songs. But when the women can shine, boy, do they. The supremely underused Missy Karle is brassy, confident, and addictive. She leaves the audience wanting more, even after she’s been gone for three numbers. When Reneisha Jenkins takes center for her cover of “Hound Dog,” well, thank the man upstairs that there isn’t much terrible choreography in this number to distract from the outstanding vocal talent.
Overall, the production is quite mediocre. The men aren’t manly, the staging is plain, the cast lacks chemistry. It’s a series of awful high school-level clichés. When a show points at itself and says, “Wow! I’m a musical!” it should be a campy, humorous moment. But here, it’s just plain dull.
SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ
Open Door Theatre
Now through November 20th
Tickets $28, available at opendoorrep.org
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