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Wail away and live out loud: Check out 'Smokey Joe's Cafe'

July 13, 2011 at 2:13 a.m.

Mark Jackson, Cole Ryden, Chioke Coreathers and Blythe Kirkwood in the Texas Theatre Repertory Co. production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe."

We've all had those moments, sitting in a diner when that gleaming jukebox whirs and clicks and drops a record with a song that just so happens to be the best-song-in-the-entire world.

As the first notes of "Spanish Harlem" or "Stand By Me" sound, you know what you have to do - and there you are, eyes closed, head tilted back and mouth agape, wailing along, hopelessly, helplessly singing in public. It may sound embarrassing, but if you've never done it, get yourself to your nearest diner and try it - it's an awesome feeling.

But whether you're an old hand at singing in public with the kind of abandon that draws stares, or fresh as spring green grass to classic pop standards, go check out the Texas Repertory Theatre Co. production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe," a musical review that won a Grammy after premiering on Broadway in 1995.

The show features 39 songs by the great pop song writers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. You likely don't know their names, but I guarantee you've heard their songs.

The show is written in strict musical review form, without any dialogue. Different combinations of characters get together and sing songs we all know in our marrow like there's no tomorrow.

Hearing these songs sung by people who know them inside out, and are willing to lay it all out there, to really feel their way through the songs as they sing them - to mean it - is a pretty great feeling.

If you've ever sung with your eyes closed, you know the specific spine-tingling thrill I'm talking about. If you've never done it, go see "Smokey Joe's Cafe." Listen to the show-stopping closer "Stand By Me." Then go squinch your eyes up tight and sing like nobody is looking. If soaking up all of that greater music can't teach you how to lean back, let go and wail, nothing will.



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