Review: Smokey Joe’s Café reviewed at Fountain Hills Theater and then some!

Joseph Gordon | Gilbert Theater Examiner | June 20, 2010

Joseph GordonMany people cringe at the very thought of community theater. They are perceived as unprofessional venues meant for actor wannabes and their families. This is so far from the truth. Community theater is the bedrock, the foundation of our theater community. This is where budding talents are trained and encouraged and where individual performer’s dreams are nurtured and fulfilled. Certainly, these not-for-profit venues cannot compete with their larger, professional cousins and must be viewed with a different standard of criticism but the need for them should never be in question.

The Valley is blessed with a plethora of pleasurable community theaters. Wherever you turn, no matter where you live, there is a local non-professional theater to call your own and each, with its distinct personality, is to be respected. They are truly an embarrassment of riches. Peoria has its Theater Works. Tempe has its Tempe Little Theatre. Scottsdale has its Desert Stages Theatre. Mesa has its Mesa Encore Theatre. Fountain Hills has its Fountain Hills Community Theater. Everyone of these mentioned theaters is a constant source of Broadway’s best on a limited budget and each has its own unlimited supply of fresh and proven talent.

For example, there is the jewel of Fountain Hills, the Fountain Hills Community Theater. Friday night FHCT opened its final production of its 2009-10 season with a most delightful production of Stephen Helper, Jack Viertel, and Otis Sallid’s smash hit musical revue Smokey Joe’s Café, featuring the amazing song catalog of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The revue possesses nearly forty of simply the greatest songs of any specific era ever recorded. Musical magicians Leiber and Stoller could easily be credited with inventing rock ‘n’ roll.

The show opened on Broadway at theVirginia Theatre (now the August Wilson Theatre) on March 2, 1995 to mixed reviews but quickly caught on with the general public. It proved so popular that it ran for just shy of five years, closing on January 16 2000 after a run of 2,036 performances, becoming one of Broadway’s longest running musical revues.

Smokey Joe’s Café was nominated for five 1995 Tony Awards. The best selling original cast recording on Atlantic Records/WEA won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album in 1996.

The Fountain Hills Community Theater production of Smokey Joe’s Café is staged by Peter J. Hill (direction and set design) and Noel Irick (choreography and costumes) with superb musical direction by Bill Moore. The production stars Alex Bradley, Jessica Frieling, Dominic Kidwell, Jessica Kidwell, Scott McKown, Lew Myers, Chrystalle Reed, Lizz Reeves Fidler and Ronee Korbin Steiner.

Hill and Irick have staged this Smokey Joe’s Café with a twinkling eye and a great sense of humor. I saw the original New York production and had no memory that it was so full of welcome comic moments. That show was a non-stop evening filled with remarkable songs, a concert of Leiber and Stoller’s best. FHCT’s dynamic duo have added a joyous sense of delicious, inventive fun to each set piece but never at the expense of their ensemble’s gorgeous harmonies. What we have here is an entertaining, fast moving well-sung and most welcome evening of musical nostalgia.

The wonderful cast includes delectable performances from all but most particularly from Alex Bradley, Lizz Reeves Fidler, Jessica Frieling and Dominic Kidwell. Bradley not only has the good looks of a matinee idol, he has the talent to match. Reeves is both an incredible singer and fabulous comedienne. Her Fools Fall in Love is pure magic. Frieling has a luscious stage presence and her sexy, scintillating delivery of Don Juan is one of the evening’s highlights. Kidwell is a marvelous singer and smartly funny comic actor.

And then there are those songs! Front and center are such unforgettable favorites as Hound Dog, On Broadway, Charlie Brown, Love Potion #9, Jailhouse Rock, There Goes My Baby, Yakety Yak, Kansas City, Spanish Harlem, Poison Ivy and Stand By Me.

Community theater? Where else would you have the pleasure to witness the debut of the wonderfully funny, aspiring performer Scott McKown? The lean McKown is a most agreeable discovery. FHCT has given him a stage to display his talents and fulfil his wish to perform. Just witness his surprisingly rich bass voice in his highly pleasing duet, You’re the Boss, with Ms. Frieling. This is what community theater is all about, talent and discovery.

Another example of why we should treasure our local theater companies? Jacqueline Rushing, who recently starred as Ti Moune in Mesa Encore Theatre’s sparkling revival of Once on This Island, is another sample of talent mined to perfection. Rushing was charged with carrying the show and she shouldered that memorable production with flawless ease. Proof positive? She has been tapped by the Phoenix Theatre, the Valley’s premier musical home, to co-star next season in Hairspray.

Have you hugged your local community theater lately? They need all of our love and support.

Production photos by Patty Torrilhon and graphic art, courtesy of Fountain Hills Community Theater.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe runs through July 4. For additional information regarding ticket availability and/or performance schedule, please contact the Fountain Hills Community Theater Box Office directly either by phone (480) 837-9661 ext. 3 or ON LINE.

Fountain Hills Community Theater 11445 North Saguaro Blvd. Fountain Hills 85269

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