BY JEFF LEVENE
Boasting the songs of Leiber and Stoller and an exciting and talented cast delivering plenty of personality to the show’s legendary tunes, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” marks a promising start to The New Younts Theatre Company.
Director Melody Yasi has tapped into a delightfully playful nature to capture the show’s nostalgic feel-good vibes. She puts the fun front and center, teaming up with choreographer Kimberlee Ferreira to bring a nice mixture of high-energy choreography, and plenty of funny physical gags.
Add in a vibrant cache of costumes (Stacey Hawks), a kickin’ live band, and music direction by Tim St. Clair II, and it only makes group numbers like “D.W. Washburn” and “Saved” all the more entertaining.
Brandon Gaunt encapsulates this fun-loving, almost vaudeville, spark with a slew of facial features, and his deeper-than-the-Mississippi bass only adds to the personality of “Yakety Yak” and “Little Egypt.”
Megan Noelle delivers a bright perkiness to some terrific dance sequences. Her rendition of “Falling” is reminiscent of a more playful take on Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango.”
In the same vein Daja Dial finds a perfect balance between burlesque moves and some hilarious one-liners, mixing her sultry tones with off the cuff jabs in “Don Juan.” Her gentle yet crisp voice also provides the perfect romantic tone in “You’re the Boss.”
Tim St. Claire II brings the slap-stick in “Searchin’,” as he scurries around the stage with his back-up singers looking for something we can only assume is worth his immense comedic physicality. He then shows off both his emotional and vocal range in the haunting falsetto finale of “I (Who Have Nothing).”
Parker Byun gracefully waltzes with his new love in “Spanish Harlem,” only moments after an (intentionally) painful Elvis impersonation in “Treat Me Nice.”
Greenville theatre veteran Rick Connor brings plenty of his trademark grunge and stage presence in numbers like “Jailhouse Rock.”
Kristy Parker Byers’ rendition of the sultry saloon-sounding “Pearl’s a Singer” lets her show off her own powerful growl.
Jerell Lomax thrives in the upper octave reaches in numbers like “Stand By Me” and “There Goes My Baby.”
But if you’re wondering where the smoke in Joe’s fine establishment is coming from, look no further than the sizzling vocals of Khristin Stephens, whose rendition of “Hound Dog” brought down the house only halfway through the second act. Boasting a beautiful and commanding charge of her instrument, Stephens also oozes confidence, whether she’s looking for her newest (unwilling) dance partner in “Dance with Me,” or bringing it home for her sisters as she leads the ladies in the pure girl power classic “I’m a Woman.” Stephens’ performance is easily worth the price of admission alone.
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” runs at the Younts Center until November 4. For more information, you can visit https://www.yountscenter.org/ online, or give them a call at 864-409-1050.