By Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal
Special to the Village News 

Joe's Cafe is Smokin'


Last updated 2/15/2019 at 9:14am

"Smokey Joe's Café" swings! It is a happy, sassy, hard-hitting rock & roll triumph!

A reprisal of Broadway's longest running hit show with over 2,000 performances, this show will go down as one of NVA's best. Maybe ever!

You watch. New Village Arts will sell out "Smokey Joe's Café".

If it isn't too late to get a seat this is what will happen. First, you'll be overcome by uncontrollable toe-tapping. Second, you'll be encouraged to join into choreographed bursts of group clapping which will, no doubt, result in spontaneous, unruly seat-dancing.

The song list embodies the very heart of rock 'n' roll. Songwriting's royalty Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were together for over 60 years writing tunes for genre legends. They were to rock & roll what Moss and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, and the Gershwin brothers were to Broadway.

In 1990, Rolling Stone Magazine wrote about the team of Leiber and Stoller, "(they)... initiated ...the sensual and spiritual intimacies of urban black culture that fueled the birth of rock & roll. Their music captured the essence and hilarity...while transcending it – heavy-duty R&B with a pop sensibility and lyric universality."

This team wrote some of the all-time best rock and roll songs ever recorded! Who could ever forget "Ruby Baby," "Fools Fall in Love," "Jailhouse Rock" or "Stand by Me"? Oh, wait. They also wrote "Hound Dog" and "I Am a Woman." By the way, in this show, there are 39 of these hit songs. It's like a generation of American Bandstand in one night.

Each of the nine performers gets to showcase his or her talent along the way.

Without a written dialogue, everything flows evenly from one song to the next with each one seeming to get better than the last. Until the next to the last number.

"Stand by Me" is sung by Kyle Leatherbury. Finally, Leatherbury gets to shine. A knock-it-out-of-the-park performance.

Earlier, Jasmine January is full of mischief when she reminds us she is "Trouble" and fall down hilarious when telling the story about "Don Juan." She is a diva.

New to the area is NVA's latest find, Philip David Black and his booming bass voice. An excellent singer/dancer even though here he is only in the ensemble, Black still shines throughout. He is leading man material. The man's got swag.

Natasha Baenisch is back at NVA taking off some time from her year-round gig at Lego Land. She has more voice and spunk than her opening outfit suggests but is dressed to suit as the show rolls on. While too young for any of the big girl songs, she holds her own in "I Am A Woman" and when she does the shimmy or dancing with Trevor Rex to Leatherbury's "Spanish Harlem". The only thing missing would be castanets. While Baenisch is extremely lithe and limber and itty bitty, she is still a firecracker.

Kevin "Blax" Burroughs is another local guy with a long performance resume, which is one of many things making this such a great show. Blax gets a chance to shine going so far as to tackle "Treat Me Nice" (once covered by Elvis) and made it his own.

Trevor Rex is a superb dancer and vocalist. Rex's moment happens when he perfectly mimics the iconic Elvis hip swivel in the opening down beat from Presley's first movie "Jailhouse Rock" in 1957. A blazing triumph.

Another surprise is NVA newbie Isaac Kalimo. Last seen in "Shockheaded Peter" at the Cygnet, it needs to be said, his talent was overshadowed by the production.

Director Houck has done a really, really good job pulling this remarkable cast together. Allowing the artists to do be their best. As Kalimo is here.

Playing next to him is veteran Melissa Fernandez. Always showing up with her A-game, she does so here too. Her performances are always courageous and front forward, never holding anything back. A delight to watch.

Saving a favorite for last, Eboni Muse is true to herself. I get her. I am a fan. Part of the fun is waiting to see what she will bring this time to top her last performance. Never has she disappointed. Again, Miss Muse gives her every thing. First comes her hair and then her smile before her eyes start to sparkle indicating she is about to fill the air with the ultimate joy of her voice.

Benjamin Goniea is the conductor/keys for the onstage band and a thank you note needs to be written to his parents for paying for all those lessons. As in this case, a good conductor brings together only the best musicians to join him. Marc Akiyama is on percussion/drums; Kyle Bayquen simply stole my heart on bass; Andrew Snyder is on guitar and at this performance Matt Gill was on sax.

Christopher Scott Murillo is the creative set designer on this show, Bryon Anderson handles sound with Chris Renda on lights. Lastly, Samantha Vesco needs a bigger costume budget to dress this cast appropriately. Somebody needs to step up the wardrobe account because it appears this cast is dressed from their own closets. Meanwhile, choreographer Michael Mizerany leads the cast in every kind of dance including The Floss but somehow, he didn't have time to teach them how to jitterbug. But, every other dance was fantastic.

All said, this show will rank high amongst the season's winners."Smokey Joe's Café" runs until March 10 at NVA in Carlsbad at 2787 State Street with plenty of free parking at the Coaster lot just behind the theatre.

Tickets may be hard to come by for this show so hurry. Contact the Box office at (760) 433-3245 or What a great evening of entertainment. This show is rated 9.25 out of 10.

By the way, New Village Arts is replacing their next show with "Little Shop of Horrors" opening April 13.

The writer can be reached at


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