The Atlanta Lyric Theatre

‘Cafe’ music will move you

Wendell Brock, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
January 24, 2009

THEATER REVIEW

If you are looking for a way to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is a swell place to start.

There’s no getting around the fact that the music of pop-meisters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller can be a little squishy. “M.O.R.” could have been coined to describe the sound of the radio-vernacular writers who penned hits for the Drifters and the Coasters back in the day.

Well, that can’t stop the energy of the fantastic little production of the Leiber & Stoller Broadway revue, playing at a gem of a venue in Marietta. I really can’t think of a nicer way to spend an evening than in the company of Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s kicky entertainers and the Earl Smith Strand Theatre.

Like the Marietta Square, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is pure Americana —- as likable as lemonade. Directed by Brandt Blocker, the musical pastiche is wonderfully sung and nicely designed. And it features a nine-member group that proves the city’s musical-theater talent pool is deeper and richer than a single clique or casting director or theater.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” —- which uses songs like “Dance With Me,” “You’re the Boss” and “Spanish Harlem” to create little storytelling moments —- is built on ensembleship. And Shawn Megorden, David Howard, Caitlin Smith and Michael Larche are superb performers who can deliver the goods.

Even when the choreography requires them to do cheesy moves (“On Broadway,” “Spanish Harlem”), the show dances forth with spirit and charm.

Megorden can belt with the best of them —- and here she has fun showing some leg (“Some Cats”). Howard is the token straight man with the serious bass growl, while Theresa Cunningham brings the sass. Newcomer Larche deserves a big shout out for his powerful voice, Jevares C. Myrick for his exuberant spirit.

Jonathan Foucheaux’s set —- an arch of opaque “stained glass” that Bradley Bergeron washes in expressive shades of blue and red light to fit the moment —- is perfect for the mood of the piece. And Clint Horne’s costumes flatter the material without upstaging it.

Just days after President Barack Obama suggested that we embrace our woes with the pertness of a Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern standard (“Pick Yourself Up”), this buoyant little show feels like a suitable response. It’s not blowing smoke to say that Atlanta Lyric Theatre has found its groove in Leiber & Stoller.

The Atlanta Lyric Theatre