Smokey Joe’s Cafe At The Ogunquit Playhouse Treats You Nice


Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Music of Leiber and Stoller

Through June 9 at The Ogunquit Playhouse

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Kyle Taylor Parker, Dwayne Cooper, John Edwards, and Jelani Remy
(Photo by Gary Ng)

Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Music of Leiber and Stoller now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse is 90 minutes of non-stop entertainment. This high energy musical revue showcasing the classic rock and roll hits of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller has a cast of ten backed up by a six person orchestra. The musicians are onstage, and sometimes take center stage, throughout the performance. 

Most people are familiar with the Leiber and Stoller songbook. 38 of the songs are performed on the Playhouse stage, including a few of the lesser known works, which is an added treat as they should be better known. 

If you are looking for the story behind the songs you won’t find it here. What you will find is a cast that works non stop from start to finish while all the time appearing to be having as good a time on stage as the audience is having while watching them. From the opening number to the final encore there is never a dull moment. The cast has the Ogunquit Playhouse really rocking. 

The outstanding set is two levels with winding iron stairways on both sides. It has a bar and the walls are mostly red brick. There is much neon lighting. Those neon lights are put to good use during the number On Broadway. The tables and chairs are also used in many of the numbers. Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt has done a marvelous job. 

Dionne D. Figgins and Dwayne Cooper
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

At no time during the performance did I feel like I was simply watching a bunch of musicians belting out one song after another. Thanks to the brilliant choreography of Josh Bergasse who is also the director, each number was something unique and special. Running through just a few of them, there was Jelani Remy’s Jailhouse Rock with some acrobatic dancing that would have impressed Elvis. 

Remy, along with John Edwards, Dwayne Cooper, and Kyle Taylor Parker captured the original Coasters sound on Searchin’, Young Blood, Charlie Brown, and a truly inspired and crowd pleasingly funny version of Along Came Jones. John Edwards brought the house down with his portrayal of Poor Sweet Sue who keeps falling into the clutches of Salty Sam. 

Nicole Vanessa Ortiz and Alysha Umphress, along with Max Sangerman on guitar gave a solid performance on Kansas City. Ms Ortiz’s version of Hound Dog reached back to the wonderful original version by Big Mama Thornton while Dionne Figgins and Jelani Remy gave a sensual Spanish Harlem with Ms Figgins moving beautifully around the stage while being serenaded by Mr. Jelani. The touch of Spanish guitar was perfect for it.

Emma Degerstedt withJelani Remy, Shavey Brown, Dwayne Cooper, and Max Sangerman
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Emma Degerstedt on Teach Me How To Shimmy is attired in a hot pink shimmy dress that in and of itself deserves to be listed as a member of the cast. Alysha Umpress captures the melancholy mood on Pearl’s A Singer. 

Max Sangerman and the rest of the male members of the cast harmonize beautifully on an a cappella version of Loving You. Alysha Umpress performs Trouble while accompanied by Yuka Tadano, giving it a jazz flavor.

For Dueling Pianos most of the orchestra was rolled out on center stage with two upright pianos back to back. With Sonny Perkins and Matt Oestreicher facing off on the keyboards it was like having Jerry Lee Lewis in stereo. This was a rip roaring number. 

I have only touched on a few of the many great songs performed in this revue. There is much, much more. 


Jelani Remy, Shavey Brown, John Edwards, Dwayne Cooper, and Max Sangerman
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Smokey Joe’s Cafe is really enhanced by the choreography. All of the movements on stage go perfectly with this great music. The energy pumping out on stage is impossible to resist. At times the cast members dance up and down the aisles while the entire theatre is rocking. It is something to experience. 

On the evening I was there Mike Stoller was also in the audience. After the encore he took to the stage to say a few words. It was very touching as he spoke of his late partner Jerry Leiber. He told of how he would call him whenever he had news, and took this occasion to relate what he would have said to him after watching these young performers do such a fine job with the music he and Mr. Leiber created. He was deeply touched by it all. 

This production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe; cast, sets, and costumes, along with director Josh Bergasse will be transferring to New York in July. I highly recommend seeing it now before it moves on. It’s been a long winter and I can think of no better way to get ready to welcome the summer than by taking a ride to beautiful Ogunquit, Maine and getting your rock and roll juices flowing with this knock out of a show. 

Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Music of Leiber and Stoller

Playing through June 9

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Rt. 1 Ogunquit, Maine