Smokey Joe’s Café, a musical revue based on songs by the prolific Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, was the first in a long line of musicals based on an already popular back catalogue.
Abba, Take That and Queen have all since had plots shoe-horned around their greatest hits, so you could argue this show has a lot to answer for. However, Smokey Joe’s Café is not so much an attempt at a musical as a live catalogue of songs.
We get song after song, with no dialogue, narrative or character to connect them, although there are vague suggestions of both. On occasion this is successful: the drunken ‘D.W. Washburn’ (performed by a very funny Miguel Angel) is redeemed by Kym Mazelle’s joyful "Saved". Other songs, however, are brought to life less convincingly, for example an entertaining but inexplicably angry rendition of "Pearl’s a Singer".
Legendary disco diva Mazelle is an extraordinary stage presence and it's a kick to see this larger than life talent in such an intimate setting. Stephanie Fearon, a semi-finalist on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s television talent search Over The Rainbow, is a wonderful singer but seems slightly awkward performing pop songs instead of show tunes.
Although the entire cast are energetic and tuneful, Ngo Ngola is the performer who seems most comfortable with the difficult task of imparting narrative where none appears to exist. She is truthful and clearly enjoying herself throughout - her sexy, cheeky rendition of "Don Juan" is a joy.
You will probably be astounded by how many classic pop songs this duo produced, and how rapidly the cast get through them - 39 songs in two hours, including "Hound Dog", "Poison Ivy" and "Stand by Me". Although it sits a little awkwardly between a musical and a live jukebox, Smokey Joe’s Café showcases great songs, performed by talented people. Good, fluffy fun.