‘Smokey Joe’s:” enthralling and fun

City College’s production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” opened on Oct. 28. and featured talented vocalists that held their own against a background with no story.

This is not a traditional musical but a revue, a production that is comprised of multiple acts that combine elements of music, dance and sketches.

The line-up consists of almost 40 songs and has a total running time of almost 90 minutes.

The selection consists of classic rock ‘n’ roll, blues and pop songs from the 1950’s. The most recognizable ones being from Ben E. King and Elvis Presley.

The first act begins with “Neighborhood,” a song that weaves through the rest of the revue.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is largely about love lost and love won. This is a theme evident in the song choices. Each person on stage seems to be singing about pining for someone, getting over someone or being in love. No names are ever given but these are the voices that make up the neighborhood.

The cast is made up of 30 actors. For much of the first act, the women parade around in vintage style floral print dresses reminiscent of the era.

Because this is a revue, there is no story to follow. There is no dialogue and characters are never named.

The only consequence of this is that the live show, while enthralling and fun, is simply reduced to feeling like a long glee club performance.

The lights go down and songs flow right into the next one. The set barely changes except for when the skyline background shifts to a poster or nothing at all (As it does in “Trouble,” where hot pink lights are used against a black background in a style similar to “Chicago.”).

The choreography is too simple, mostly made up of hand gestures and shimmying.

Despite this, the show is enthralling. The actors are good and their voices are incredibly strong. The theater is filled with applause after every song.

Miriam Dance is by far the most natural when it comes to playing sassy and fierce. Her cover of “Hound Dog,” an Elvis classic that she sings to a man attempting to two time her, is one of the best parts of the show.

Shurren Dupree accompanies Dance on some songs but is a powerhouse all her own. Her notes are always high and clear and her cover of “Fools Fall in Love (Reprise)” is simply beautiful.

It’s obvious that the female cast can out sing the males but this formula does manage to fail too, most notably during “I’m a Woman” which feels like a battle for who can reach the loudest high note.

On the men’s side, Dairrick Hodges has one of the most soulful, smooth voices of anyone on the cast. His vocals on “Stand By Me,” the night’s closing song, make him stand out from the rest of the pack and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get more stage time.

It would be nice to see these voices put to use in something with more direction, substance and an actual story. Nonetheless, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is an entertaining showcase of different levels of talent and a great effort.

The production will remain at Saville Theatre until Nov. 13 with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10.

For more information, contact the box office at 619-388-3676.