Mike Stoller must have known, as he sat in the audience for the matinee performance of “Smokey Joe’s Café” at the Ogunquit Playhouse on Saturday, that one of the musical gems he cowrote had just been sung at the royal wedding in England.

Indeed, “Stand by Me” and most of the music by Stoller and the late Jerry Leiber travels well, over distance and time. This latest incarnation of the long-running show, which includes over 30 of their songs from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, is scheduled for an off-Broadway run soon after it departs Ogunquit.

Without book or narration, “Smokey Joe’s Café” relies on a nonstop succession of music and dance numbers. The 90-minute show, directed and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, makes for a high-energy trip down memory lane.

 Kyle Taylor Parker, Dwayne Cooper, John Edwards and Jelani Remy. Photo by Gary Ng

Tied loosely together by nostalgic themes manifested in the songs “Neighborhood” and the title piece, the show revisits hits associated with Elvis Presley, the Coasters, Dion, the Drifters and many more. Singers and dancers add bits of visual theater on a multi-level set, designed by Beowulf Boritt, that resembles a friendly café/bar decorated with an impressive array of vintage radios.

The hits just keep on coming as the composer’s seminal skills at blending traditional genres such as folk, blues, gospel and country are revealed by soloists, duos, trios and quartets. Backed by a strong onstage band, under the direction of Sonny Paladino, who also penned new musical arrangements for this production, the youthful cast members take full advantage of their opportunities to shine.

Sangerman added grit to the lyrics about that special girl “Ruby Baby,” as band members Yuka Tadano (bass) and Eric Brown (drums) joined the singer/guitarist at center stage.


“Along Came Jones” and several other songs were highlighted by the rich baritone voice of Dwayne Cooper. “Keep On Rollin’,” one of his features, included old-time washboard and spoons accompaniment. Some fine doo-wop harmonies were also heard as the show progressed.

“Dance With Me” had an unconvinced Dionne D. Figgins at the center of a comical group of admirers. She later showed some more serious moves in a flamenco-flavored take on “Spanish Harlem.” Emma Degerstedt revisited the go-go ’60s on “Teach Me How to Shimmy” and embodied another long-ago dance trend on “Bossa Nova Baby.”

“Poison Ivy” was another comic blast, with John Edwards in the lead. He later moved to the more serious end of the spectrum with a strong solo on “I Who Have Nothing.” Jelani Remy let it all out on the “Jailhouse Rock,” executing some very athletic backflips along the way. Kyle Taylor Parker went “Searchin'” in style and eventually found some “Love Potion #9.” Shavey Brown offered choice dance moves throughout.

Alysha Umphress took things in yet another direction with the countrified “Pearl’s A Singer” and vamped the saucy “Trouble” alongside some resonant bass work from Tadano. Nicole Vanessa Ortiz unleashed a raucous “Hound Dog” and aimed high for a soul-stirring “Saved.”

“Stand by Me,” performed by Edwards and the company, crowned a show that very entertainingly brings back songs dear to many hearts.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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