A Night of Rock ‘n’ Roll at ‘Smokey Joe’s Café’



The opening night of “Smokey Joe’s Café” was marked by high-energy choreography, classic rock ‘n’ roll music and retro costumes.

“It feels like a party in here, and that’s exactly what it is,” said Valencia Matthews, director of Florida A&M theatre and performance. Matthews welcomed the audience before the show began, inviting everyone to have a good time.

The revue’s 13-member cast quickly set the tone of the evening as the mid-tempo opening number quickly transformed into a fast-paced tune.

Unlike most plays, “Smokey Joe’s Café” had no dialogue throughout the duration of the show and no central plot. Instead, storylines developed and ended throughout the course of each song performed. None of the characters had names.

When performers were on stage, yet not actively singing or dancing, they often held still, photograph-like poses. Spotlights assisted the cast in transitioning from one tune to the next.

The original “Smokey Joe’s Café” ran on Broadway for 13 years and was nominated for seven Tony Awards. Florida A&M’s Essential Theatre performed a truncated version bearing most of the original show’s features. 

Michelle Robinson, director of the performance, said she intentionally kept the original elements of the show, following Broadway protocol.

“Broadway has strict rules about adapting any of its shows,” said Robinson. “You can’t add any tunes not in the original show.”

Robinson said she kept the original choreography to challenge the Essential Theatre’s student performers.

Tunes radiated throughout the evening with tales of falling in love too quickly, not falling in love at all and, naturally, being scorned by love. Other tunes focused on female empowerment, travel and religion.

The show had familiar tunes including “I’m a Woman” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

Deborah Oliver, 37, a Tallahassee resident, said the all-female performance of “I’m a Woman” was her favorite of the evening. “It’s the story of my life and every other woman I know,” Oliver said.

Act I was highlighted by animated dance moves including shimmies, sashays,

head-bobbing and three-point turns.

Lisa Alexander, 21, a third-year math education student from Pembroke Pines, Fla., said she liked the evening’s fashion.

“I was so impressed. The ladies all wore heels for most of the show, and the men also wore dressy, hard-bottomed shoes,” Alexander said. “It was amazing they could all dance so well in those shoes. Not everyone can.”

Characters wore a wide variety of costumes ranging from casual retro skirts and oxfords to classic evening and formal wear.

During Act II, “I Who Have Nothing,” featured more intricate choreography. The moves included pirouettes, leaps, lines and extensions.

Other FAMU students like Kathleen Bien-Aimé enjoyed the performance.

Bien-Aimé, 19, a first-year biochemistry student from Pompano Beach, Fla., said she enjoyed the show.

“The show is filled with humorous scenes and love scenes,” Bien-Aimé described.

She said her favorite performance of the night was during the religious piece “Saved.”

“It was very inspirational to see,” she added.

Otis Clark, 22, a fourth-year music education and music industry student from Chester, S.C., said he loved the show.

“The performance was great,” Reece said. “The musicians and vocalists were very talented.”

The show winded down with the familiar old tune, “Stand By Me” as the cast interacted with the audience by clapping and dancing into the aisles of the theatre.

The performers exited the stage after a quick teaser of the song “Baby, That is Rock and Roll.”