Smokey Joe’s Cafe – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Welcome back ACT, A Contemporary Theatre in Ridgefield, to the center stage with live theatre! The sensational sounds of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are once again giving pleasure to local audiences and you’re invited to be front and present.

Jerry Leiber has been accused of convincing his soulmate Mike Stoller into becoming a songwriter, something Stoller was not anxious to become. Whatever Jerry said, that unique partnership lasted for six decades, with Jerry as the witty lyricist and Mike as the talented composer. Along the way, they helped a little unknown singer like Elvis Presley find his voice, gifting him with tunes like “Loving You” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Rock and roll was their forte and humor was often their trademark, although rhythm and blues crept into their extensive repertoire.

This producing partnership wrote “Hound Dog” for Big Mama Thornton and a string of R and B tunes for Charles Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon and Floyd Dixon. Almost three dozen of their greatest hits are on display until Sunday, October 24 as the ACT of Ridgefield presents “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller” for your sizzling listening pleasure. This musical revue is equal to Jack Benny’s age, 39, and the pair wrote lyrics for the likes of Elvis, Ben E. King, The Coasters and The Drifters, winning Grammys and Tony awards along the way.

As the architects of rock and roll, Leiber and Stoller knew no rivals. If you’re looking for a good time that ping pongs back and forth from snappy scomebacks to mellow yellow, then “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is the perfect place to park yourself for a musical interlude. A talented cast of eight – Albert Guerzon, Arnold Harper II, Avionce Hoyles, Jordan Fife Hunt, Keyonna Knight, Courtney Long, Kelly MacMillan and Juson Williams – is perfectly poised and polished to light up the skies with hits from the musical pens of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. In responding to the duo’s wild success, as two nice Jewish boys who met in 1950 and embraced black culture, Jerry Leiber noted “We don’t write songs. We write records.”

Turn up the heat for this retrospective of hits that are reminiscent of decades ago that swing and sway and shimmy into rhythmic magic land with such numbers as “Dance With Me,” “Searchin,’” “On Broadway,” “Yakety Yak,” and “I’m A Woman.” They will tickle your fancy with their comic twists performing “Poison Ivy,” “Don Juan,” “D. W. Washburn,” and “Love Potion #9.” Elvis will enter the building as they blast out “Hound Dog,” “Treat Me Nice,” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

You’ll love the verbal Valentine of “Falling,” the fun of the dancing in “Teach Me How To Shimmy” and the power of “Stand By Me.” Their invitation to “Dance With Me” will be too hard to resist while you might be tempted to confess and repent just to be ”Saved.” No matter what the mood or tempo, this lively group will wrap you up with a slithery red boa as they dance and sing. They’ve got all the right moves and you might find yourself on your feet on stage helping them along the way. Stephanie Pope Lofgren is both director and choreographer.

For tickets, call the ACT, 36 Quarry Road, Ridgefield at 475- 215-5497 or online at Performances are Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Let the mighty spirit move you as you take a musical journey along this friendly and famous road paved by the good works of Leiber and Stoller. Discover first hand why Leiber and Stoller have been called the Rodgers and Hammerstein of Rock and Roll.