The revue of rock 'n' roll songs by
In one sense, this is community theater at its finest. "Smokey Joe's" is the first show that True to You has done without partnering with another theater company, and producer
But make no mistake. There's a level of talent here that any company in town would be thrilled to have, and Gregory and Byrd both possess the skills to make that talent shine. Lulls exist to be sure, but even as it falls short during a couple of low-energy ballads the show reaches such giddy heights of entertainment that it makes those moments easy to forgive. Despite a couple of rough edges, this is a fabulous production.
"Smokey Joe's" has a loose narrative flow that comes from how the songs are arranged. Show opener "Neighborhood," which contains some of the flawless, spine-tingling harmonies that fill this revue, presents the 10 performers as having grown up together, with the subsequent songs presumably plucked from their individual journeys.
Directing, choreographing and acting in a musical is a huge amount of work for one person, but given Byrd's history with "Smokey Joe's" -- he's performed it multiple times -- he makes that burden appear light. He leads his cast through some energetic, effective choreography, while providing compelling lead vocals on such tunes as "Young Blood" and "Stand By Me."
There are lots of opportunity for cheese in this show, but Byrd sidesteps almost all of them save for the corny black-and-white-striped costumes of "Jailhouse Rock." Even then, he salvages the number with some jumpy choreography.
Producer Gregory, who also costumes the show and music directs a rock-solid band with the assistance of
Robinson comes off like a star in the making. He's got the requisite good looks, but he also has a presence and a suave seriousness that doesn't feel out of place on the more comic numbers. Plus, his fabulously rich, transportive voice fits perfectly on a ballad like "Spanish Harlem," which also features some fine dancing by
Pacheco also displays power, toughness and sexiness on "
"Searchin'" provides a stage for the considerable comic abilities of Khawon Porter, who comes close to stealing the show on "D.W. Washburn" with his uncanny portrayal of a happy derelict before the number bleeds into the gospel fabulousness of "Saved."
In general the more upbeat numbers work better than the ballads, as when the men rock the bluesy, railroad-themed "Keep on Rollin'," or when the women provide a compelling answer to Bo Diddley and
Even the band gets into the act, soloing impressively on "Baby, That's Rock & Roll," a number the cast reprises for curtain call.
There are some distractions, like when set pieces are moved and bang into mics hanging overhead, setting them a-swingin', but they pale in the face of the overwhelmingly positive energy of this show. Simply put, "Smokey Joe's" is smokin' hot.
(c)2014 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)
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