Niles Rivers, Robert Torti, John Woodard, III, Macco Oliver,
and T.C. Carson in Smokey Joe's Cafe
(© Ed Krieger)
Niles Rivers, Robert Torti, John Woodard, III, Macco Oliver,
and T.C. Carson in Smokey Joe's Cafe
(© Ed Krieger)
Smokey Joe's Cafe, the popular and entertaining revue of the smooth stylings of songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller now at the El Portal Theatre, still snaps with familiar songs to which many audience members grew up listening. They evoke nostalgia for the heydays of malt shops, drive-ins, and varsity football games, yet their lyrics feature deceptively clever wit such as "You're gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion" in "Poison Ivy."

In Jeffrey Polk's production, each song is a mini story, nicely conveyed by the performances. Couples fall in love in "Dance With Me," break up in "There Goes My Baby," and communicate jealousy in "Hound Dog."

The cast is uniformly charismatic, and each one is given a chance to shine. Dee Dee Lively, a member of the show's original Broadway cast, performs her famous shimmy dance in white fringe. Robert Torti has his moment with the Elvis Presley hit "Jailhouse Rock," while vampish Dionne Figgins has a titillating number in "Don Juan" using a boa as a lethal weapon, and also shows off her ballet expertise in "Spanish Harlem."

Niles Rivers executes his comic timing in "Shopping for Clothes," where oversized outfits create a rousing routine. Jackie Seiden has a knack for country torch songs in the poignant "Pearl's A Singer." Sharon Catherine Blanks exhibits her remarkable vibrato in "Hound Dog." John Woodard III leads a wickedly funny "Little Egypt" and lends his bass voice as "Charlie Brown." T.C. Carson has a romantic duet with Seiden with "Love Me/Don't," while Maceo Oliver croons to all the lovesick females in "Loving You."

In short, this is an easy, breezy evening in the theater.