By Monique Jones
By Ciara LaVelle
By Jeff Weinberger
By Monique Jones
By Travis Cohen
By Liz Tracy
By Terrence McCoy
The production is also hindered by some visual and aural elements. M.P. Amico's set, a series of concentric steel and stone arches that recalls the vaults in the New York City subway system, gives a gloomy, foreboding feel to the production, as do his sepia-tinted flats that slide in and out, more appropriate to Brecht than rock and roll. There's also an uninspired six-piece backup band, placed upstage of the main action. While musical director David Nagy's crew is solid enough, it is also stolid, delivering all the verve and energy of a welding crew. Too bad Arisco didn't have a live and jumping onstage band to add some juke and banter with the cast. And the choice to mike the cast with wireless headsets seems ill advised, an ever-present distraction to the period look of the show.
Obviously all of the above will be of particular interest to those who like their entertainment fast and light and fluffy. For those who require more thought, for all you ironists and poststructuralists, I offer another suggestion: "Smokey Joe's Café, the Inadvertent Critique on Race Relations in America." Here's a show that celebrates the careers of two Jewish kids who wrote songs lifted from the African-American culture of the racially oppressive Fifties and Sixties. The music, performed largely by blacks, is consumed largely by whites blissfully in denial about their exploitation of black culture while simultaneously denying the people of that culture. The irony is magnified when considering that this largely black cast is knocking itself out for audiences from an overwhelmingly white Coral Gables crowd, one that probably wouldn't be caught dead in the kind of loose, open world that Smokey Joe's presents, let alone in the black community that exists, largely invisible, only a few blocks away in the Grove.
And then there's the triple-axle irony of a black man singing "Treat Me Nice," a black R&B tune written for Elvis, the white man who made a fortune appropriating black music and dance innovations. The show also features a revisionist spectacle of blacks and whites (very blond whites, mind you) dancing and romancing and kidding around in a racial nirvana/neverland: The show sets up this faux nostalgia in "Neighborhood," a good-old-days conceit that's reprised throughout.
Nice tune, guys, but I doubt if that neighborhood ever existed back then, and pardon me if I'm wrong, but I don't see it around now either. At least on this stretch of sand. You gonna drink the rest of that wine?