Kirsten’s Korner: Our review of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at the Permian Playhouse

Permian Playhouse presents ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’

ODESSA, TX (KWES) - Music is an ancient language, one that transcends time and cultural differences. When someone sings a song or dances a story is communicated. Lyricist Jerome Leiber and composer Mike Stoller brought us many songs that transcend time and hold cultural relevance through the stories they tell and the emotions they convey, and now the Permian Playhouse has the pleasure of bringing these songs to the stage.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is unique from a traditional stage show in that it is a musical revue of these classic songs, rather than any sort of story with a plotline. The show bounces from song to song, barely pausing it’s roller coaster of fun and catchy tunes. There is little acting outside of the emotions put in to the song, but this doesn’t impact the show negatively.

The singers that have gathered together to undertake “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are quite a killer force. All of them are unique powerhouses that get their moment to shine yet they still blend together well in duets and group numbers, playing off of each other well.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is structured to provide a good balance between softer ballads and more upbeat songs. This keeps the show from getting stagnant and allows each singer the opportunity to truly display their vocal prowess.

Albert Hall and Tyler Lillestol are particular standouts of the male singers. Hall has a phenomenal voice and really pours his soul into the songs, particularly during “I, Who have Nothing”. This song is one of the best solos in the show and Hall will truly move the audience with his voice.

Lillestol is also a wonderful vocalist and shines, particularly during his solo sections of “Stand By Me” and “Love Potion #9”. He is quite hilarious with his physical comedy and facial expressions as well, injecting some nice humor into the show.

Of the four women in the cast, Nikki Windham and Blake Rogers are particularly phenomenal. Windham is a powerhouse vocalist, filling the auditorium with her voice and truly owning the numbers she performs, including Hound Dog. Windham also injects physical comedy into a few of her songs, both with her physicality and with her voice.

Rogers’ voice is a standout from the others because while she still has a very powerful vocal ability, she has a softer tone that really rounds out the cast. The sweeter edge comes out in her solo songs but really stands out in the group numbers.

The solos are the core of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” but two of the best numbers are ensemble numbers. “On Broadway” is an excellent piece with the men in the cast, showcasing some phenomenal vocal talent as well as great dancing. “I’m a Woman” performed by the women in the cast is a fun and fierce song that showcases each singer’s talents and lets them all have fun.

The costumes and sets are simple but effective at bringing the cafe atmosphere to life. A beautiful skyline backdrop sits on the back of the stage and really brings some fun color to a relatively calm set.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is performed with an excellent live band, which accompanies the singers nicely. Having them on stage rather than underneath in the orchestra pit makes thing more dynamic and allows the audience to really appreciate their side of things.

Sara Lillestol did an excellent job directing and choreographing the show. The dances in particular were quite excellent, though the choreography is mostly restricted to the men. While it would have been nice to see the women dance more, it is a minor complaint and the show is still fantastic.

Overall, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is an excellent night of music and fun. If you like going to the theater to see groundbreaking acting performances this show is probably not for you, but if you like classic rock and roll and rhythm and blues music, or just love to hear some fantastic vocals, this show is for you.

Tickets are on sale now via the Permian Playhouse website. They are $15 but the theater has two specials going, a buy one, get one free special happening on opening night and a family day on February 24.

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