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Theater Fri Mar 22 2013

Review: Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller


(L to R) Kasey Alfonso, Justin Adair & Robin DaSilva in SJCChicago's Smokey Joe's Café.
Photo: Anthony Robert La Penna.

Ever heard an old tune you knew, but later realized you didn't actually know you knew it? That's the effect of music and its ability to transcend generations--to take you back to a time when lyrics had sentimental value--when a song knowingly, or unknowingly, invaded your memory, whether or not you even wanted it to.

This is exactly the feeling you get from Smokey Joe's Café: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller, the musical based on the popular catalog of the famed songwriting duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, now playing at the Royal George's Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre.

In this nostalgic journey through classic music from the 50s and 60s, the show's first act opens with the co-ed ensemble cast's rendition of "Neighborhood," and from the moment they hit the stage, their camaraderie is evident. The following sets include various solos, duets, and group performances of popular Leiber and Stoller songs like "Fools Fall in Love," "Dance with Me," "On Broadway" and a fine performance of "Keep On Rollin'," performed by four of the male cast members.

The somewhat slow but steady pace of the first act gives way to a more upbeat (and a tad more theatrical) second act, with the duo's even more recognized songs like "Yakety Yak," "Charlie Brown," and "Jailhouse Rock," made famous, of course, by Elvis Presley. And as the show moves along through Leiber and Stoller's hits, there are standout performances throughout, including the gutsy "You're the Boss" (Steven Perkins and Chicago's Sydney Charles) and the anthemic crowd pleaser, "I'm A Woman" (Kasey Alfonso, Robin Dasilva, Britt-Marie Sivertsen and Charles). Although the cast members are all talented in their own individual right, for this show, the women were by far the better singers while the men were the better performers.

The dark, intimate space of the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre was the perfect setting, as the staging and the performers' proximity to the audience gives it an authentic café "feel" and is ideal for the anticipated crowd interaction that often accompanies shows of this kind.

Despite a vague plotline attempt and a bit of choreographed dancing, Smokey Joe's Café is, at its core, an unapologetic revue. For many, however, that is fine; sometimes, an entertaining trip down memory lane, whether it's through "Kansas City"--or "Spanish Harlem"--is just right.


Smokey Joe's Café: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller is now playing Thursdays through Sundays, through May 26, at the Royal George Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted; show times vary. Tickets are $25-$46.50 and are on sale at the box office, online, or by phone, 312-988-9000. For more information, visit

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By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
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Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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