Want to hear “Kansas City,” “Yakety Yak,” “Love Potion No. 9,” “On Broadway” and a few dozen other 1950s rock and pop hits as performed by an all-around splendid young cast and enjoy a yummy dinner to boot? Then head on over to Claremont for dinner and a show as Candlelight Pavilion revives the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history, Smokey Joe’s Café, featuring forty of the greatest hits of rock-and-roll songwriting legends Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Even those unfamiliar with the names Leiber and Stoller have doubtless heard some of their biggest hits more than once. Elvis Presley rocketed to stardom with their “Hound Dog” and later made the “Jailhouse Rock” to Leiber and Stoller’s words and music. Peggy Lee told the world “I’m A Woman” (W-O-M-A-N) and convinced us she meant it. And is there anyone on this planet who can’t sing at least a few bars of “Stand By Me”?
Directed with panache and choreographed with plenty of pizzazz by Paul David Bryant (who helmed last year’s The Sound Of Motown), Candlelight’s latest stars nine terrifically talented triple-threats with bright futures ahead: Maggie Anderson as Delee, Jonathan Arana as Ken, John Grant as Victor, RaShonda M. Johnson as BJ, Gary Lewis as Adrian, Tyler Lillestol as Michael, Melvin Ramsey as Frederick, Molly Stillens as Pattie, and Yvonne as Brenda. (The “characters” are named after the artists who originated the roles on Broadway in 1995.)
Anderson and Lillestol duet a high-energy “Teach Me How To Shimmy,” featuring the enchanting blonde star of Candelight’s recent Bye Bye Birdie in an extended shimmy (and I do mean extended).
The leggy duo of Anderson and Yvonne sizzle in the seductive “Trouble,” Lillestol gives Elvis a run for his money with a rockin’-and-rollin’ “Jailhouse Rock,” and Yvonne solos “Don Juan” to a sexy tango beat.
The stunning Yvonne also duets a passionate, romantic “Spanish Harlem” with the gifted and versatile Arana, who himself duets “Dance With Me” to a doo-wop beat with big-voiced Sound Of Motown returnee Johnson, who later belts out a sensational “Fools Fall In Love.”
Lewis proves himself one amazing vocalist with “There Goes My Baby” and “Love Potion # 9,” and Grant earns the evening’s loudest ovation with the Ben E. King’s classic “I Who Have Nothing.” The tall, striking Ramsey displays a deeper-than-deep silky bass voice in “You’re The Boss,” which he duets with Yvonne. Power-piped Cal State Fullerton grad Stillens sells a sassy “I Keep Forgetting” and a country-flavored “Pearl’s A Singer” to audience cheers.
The male quartet of Arana, Grant, Lewis, and Ramsey recreate the sound of The Coasters, who had twenty-four Leiber and Stoller chart hits, in “Young Blood,” “Searchin’,” and “Poison Ivy” while Anderson, Johnson, Stillens, and Yvonne combine voices in a nostalgic “Neighborhood.”
The evening of musical memories concludes with Lewis leading the company in “Stand By Me,” the show’s grand finale greeted with justifiably exuberant applause.
Andrew Orbison conducts the rocking onstage five-piece band—Eric Gelencser on bass, Ryan Maloney on guitar, Dan Silva on saxophone, Alan Waddington on drums, and Orbison on keyboard, the multitalented musical director joining cast member Grant on vocals for “Stay A While.” (Preshow entertainment was provided at the performance reviewed by expert guitarist Alvin Castro.)
The production’s uncredited scenic design has a nifty downtown feel, allowing our imaginations to fill in the rest. Lighting designer Jonathan Daroca does topnotch work with lighting design provided by SteveGDesign. Merrill Grady has coordinated a bevy of sensational costumes. Aside from a few mike glitches, sound design is excellent as well.
Logan GrosJean is stage manager and Orlando Montes technical director. Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval serve up Candlelight’s invariably scrumptious cuisine. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, production manager Neil Dale, and especially to artistic director John LaLonde.
They say the neon lights shine bright “On Broadway,” but with Smokey Joe’s Café sandwiched between last month’s 1950s classic Bye Bye Birdie and the upcoming international supersmash Monty Python’s Spamalot, the stars may well be shining even brighter through mid-September at Candlelight Pavilion.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
August 2, 2014
Photos: Kirklyn Robinson