Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2018

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Knight, company enliven ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’

Gladys Knight, a soul proprietor when it comes to delineating a song lyric, getting to the essence of the author and composer's intent, whatever the category, is the perfect match for the four decades of song hits written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, celebrated in the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical, "Smokey Joe's Cafe."

The show is ensconced in the Caesars Palace Circus Maximus, most nights through June 11.

The Circus Maximus was at capacity at the show caught, with advance sales that indicate this could be the norm for the rest of the engagement. Knight is joined by a talented, attractive and enthusiastic company which includes her brother, Bubba, one of the original Pips.

"Neighborhood," by Knight and the full company, opens the show and is reprised after "Young Blood," "Falling," "Ruby Baby" and "Dance With Me." "Keep On Rollin"' and "Searching" are vehicles for Jeffrey Polk, with Darryl J. Williams, Bubba Knight and John Woodard III, leading into a rousing "Kansas City" by Knight with Jill Stacey Carlen and Kathleen Murphy.

Kristin Lewis Gorman and Venise I. Eldridge duet on "Trouble." Gladys returns for "Love Me/Don't" with Darryl Williams, after which Kathleen Murphy sings "Fools Fall in Love," a strong statement, which nearly stops the show when reprised in Act II. Incidentally, the entire show runs a trim, tight yet swinging 90 minutes with two acts but sans intermission.

Performed were "Poison Ivy," "Don Juan," a humorous "Shoppin' for Clothes," featuring the foursome, who do the Coasters' numbers along with Freddy Moretine; "I Keep Forgetting," "On Broadway," a George Benson hit; "D.W. Washburn" and "Saved" and a solo stint by Knight ends Act I.

Act II begins with "That Is Rock 'n' Roll," which is also the show closer, both times with Gladys and the full company. Two Coasters tunes, "Yakkety Yak" and "Charlie Brown," had a surprise added starter with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman sing-talking the "Why is everyone always picking on me?" line in "Charlie Brown."

Space precludes a full listing, but the other Act II highlights include "Hound Dog" and the bravura "Fools Fall in Love" reprise by Murphy; "I'm a Woman" by Knight and the other women; "Jailhouse Rock," by Moretine and the company; a superlative "I (Who Have Nothing)" solo by Knight and the "Stand by Me" show stopper by Gladys and the company, prior to the close.

First suggestion: "Smokey Joe's Cafe" should run, either early or late, even during star policy bookings. Second suggestion: If possible, keep it on until the Circus Maximus closes, which it shouldn't.

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" is similar to but even stronger than "Ain't Misbehaving," the celebration of the songs of the late Fats Waller. With Gladys Knight, it could do capacity or close to it, indefinitely.