Quote of the Day: No one thought anyone would care much about what we were doing back then. We were proud of our work but didn’t have the slightest notion that those songs or records would be remembered three months later – or, unbelievably, fifty or more year’s later. Mike Stoller on song writing and working with legends of the 1950’s and 60’s, from the program guide in the Ordway’s production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe

The company of Smokey Joe’s Cafe at the Ordway in St. Paul, MN through 9/22/19. Photo by Dan Norman

If I played the soundtrack to Smokey Joe’s Cafe, I’d be happy all day long. These are soulful songs that tell a story and reflect on life, sung by performers whose voices raise the rafters and rip into your heart. The rhythms and melodies played in my mind long after the performance, entered into my dreams, and I’m still feeling them today. Some of my favorites: Kansas City, Poison Ivy, Jailhouse Rock, Yakety Yak, Woman, Hound Dog, Spanish Harlem, On Broadway, and many more. They were performed by The Drifters, Ben E. King, Elvis, Peggy Lee, and other greats of the time, and we’re still listening to them today.

Dwight Leslie, Shavey Bronw, Rendell Debose, and Kevin Brown, Jr. in Smokey Joe’s Cafe at the Ordway in St. Paul, MN through 9/22/19. Photo by Dan Norman

Picture The Drifters on stage in their red jackets and black pants, doing that snap choreography. Then, the vocals start, their voices blending in harmony, and you can’t help but hum along to On Broadway and other great hits of those decades. Song after song tells a story and the dance moves are exciting and athletic. The performers connect with the audience, and  you want that 90 minute show of continuous songs to go on longer. Although, they’d need to sub in more artists, because the performers give us their all.

The women of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, featuring Emily Scinto with China Brickey, Rajane’ Katurah, and Jorie Ann Kosel. Photo by Dan Norman

Stand out moments for us were the dueling pianos, featuring the keyboard players Raymond Berg and conductor Sanford Moore. I loved it when the women sang Woman. It was beautiful and powerful. When the guys sang any of that four part harmony, I’d just melt. Dwight Leslie doing Jailhouse Rock like I’ve never seen it done before! Ben Bakken on guitar and the men in songs that feature their strong voices and awesome dance moves were outstanding, and when Rajane’ sang her solo at the end, I thought she’d bring the house down. Some people stood up. She carried those notes on forever, and I’m thinking, “Breath, when are you going to breath?” So powerful. So amazing. The entire evening was a little slice of Heaven.

Shavey Brown and the company of Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Photo by Dan Norman.

Director and choreographer Joshua Bergasse brings this exciting and nostalgic production to life on stage at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. He studied the songs of Leiber and Stoller and legends who sang them. Smokey Joe’s Cafe  is a musical review production, all songs, no dialogue, and each song tells a story through the movement and voices of the performers who are all outstanding local musicians, actors, and singers. The set was positively gorgeous, looked like a bar that I’d like to belly up to and enjoy an evening of entertainment and drinks with some girlfriends. What a treat to be in the audience for this one. The talent oozed off the stage into the house and up through the rafters. Go, if you can!

Rendell DuBose and China Brickey of Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Photo by Dan Norman.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What are your favorite songs and performers of the 50’s & 60’s?