Saturday, April 30, 2016

"Smokey Joe" Solid If You're Old Enough

Mill Mountain Theatre's version of "Smokey Joe's Cafe" is spot-on if you're looking for a musical featuring tunes that are 50-65 years old and judging from last night's near sellout crowd, there are a lot of codgers willing to give it a shot.

This is a musical revue featuring 41 songs that are heavy on the early 1950s and early 1960s. It is an adept cast of nine competent singers and dancers, each of whom brings special skills that lend themselves to these period pieces. Casting was appropriate for this one.

The energy is high, when you look at what's going on stage. Not so much with the audience which, as you might expect, was pretty passive given what was happening in front of it.

The music mix is heavy on the Coasters ("Poison Ivy," among others) and Drifters ("On Broadway," etc.), Elivs (complete with blue suede shoes on "Jailhouse Rock"), novelty songs ("Charlie Brown," "Little Egypt," "Yakety Yak," etc.), a number of drippy teen love ballads ("I Who Have Nothing"), a couple of torch songs and even a gospel tune that rocks. "Pearl's a Singer," sung by Desiree Dillon (who has considerable upside) and "D.W. Washburn," sung by Morris Crosby and the company, stood out among some fresh moments.

The cast is veteran, professional and generally comes with a New York accent. As Showtimers' recent "Rent" demonstrated, it's probably an inspired idea to go outside the Valley for signing talent in a big show.

Artistic Director Ginger Poole, who is always above the crowd, and Director/Choreographer Peppy Biddy (love the name) put it all together for a pleasant evening. Unless you're too young to know what the heck's going on. Ask, for example, a 30-something (or a 40-something, or maybe even a 50-something) to explain these lyrics from the Coasters' "Searchin'": "Well, Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade got nothin', child, on me. Sergeant Friday, Charlie Chan and Boston Blackie." Who, pray tell, is Boston Blackie? You need to be my age to explain that one.


  1. "As Showtimers' recent "Rent" demonstrated, it's probably an inspired idea to go outside the Valley for signing talent in a big show."

    Mr. Smith,

    It is unclear to me why you continue to lash out and attack Showtimer's productions. I am unsure why, as someone who seems to care so much about the Roanoke Valley, you would demean a community theatre that has staged all volunteer productions in the valley for over 50 years.

    Mill Mountain is a regional theatre, it is clear to me that you don't understand the difference between regional and community theatre. Regional theatres have funding to pay their actors and can hold auditions for professional, full time actors, who are members of Actors Equity to cast in their plays and musicals. Community theatre is an outlet for community members, most of whom hold full time jobs, to perform on a volunteer basis.

    Please remember this before you rake another one of Showtimer's productions or actors over the coals. All actors, directors, musicians and technicians are there solely for the love of performing and creating art for locals to enjoy.

    A Showtimer

  2. Anonymous:

    Rarely do I "lash out" at any theatrical production in the Roanoke Valley, but not all productions are created equal and if Showtimers is charging admission, it deserves to be treated fairly.

    I thought "Rent" was a sub-par performance from the people whose singing, especially, left much to be desired. If Showtimers wants to claim "amateur production," perhaps it should take a look at not charging admission. The reviews I write--admittedly from a layman's perspective--are meant to tell you if the play is worth the admission price. Competition for those dollars is intense and people don't have an endless supply of them.

    You will note that I thought Showtimers' "Cabaret" was one of the best productions of the last year in the Valley ( and I strongly recommended it for anybody interested in theater--amateur, professional or whatever.

    Not all of Mill Mountain's productions score high and even Hollins, the standard for the Valley, occasionally misses (though very seldom).

    I fully understand the nature of amateur community theater and I have been a supporter of it for many years (and an occasional volunteer, who would not mind at all being fairly reviewed: I'm awful).

    Ask the women at Off the Rails productions (Kathy and Miriam) if I am fair and if I support community theater. I don't often care for their plays, though it is rarely because they are not performed or directed well. They take criticism like professionals and if I am incorrect, they ignore it. If I am correct, they take it to heart.

    It would seem to me that instead of being defensive and hurt by a passing remark (I did not review "Rent," mostly because I did not want to bruise tender egos and it IS strictly amateur), you might try to make the production better.