The Songs With the Most Sass and Swagger From ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’
The original Broadway production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe premiered on the Great White Way in 1995 at the Virginia Theatre and closed in 2000 (after 2,036 spell-binding performances). The show is a musical revue, swaying and bopping and tapping and hopping to the most celebrated pop standards by the legendary duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
The two are behind songs by Elvis Presley, The Coasters, The Monkees, and more. Several rock numbers make their way into the show. However, a handful of softer songs, sung by women in charge, offer up an inspiring degree of confidence — an enviable essence defined by sass and swagger. So, which singers, and which songs brought audiences to their knees?
1. ‘Don Juan’ | Brenda Braxton
Brenda Braxton sashays onto the stage in a little black dress, carrying an elaborate, feathery red scarf that she tosses around willy nill. She also brings out a single chair as a prop to stand upon, and walk around for emphasis. The number is funny and sassy, as she tells Don Juan, now that his money is gone, so is she!
She and her man used to cruise in a jet high in the sky; his kisses “were so sweet,” she explains…”at 30 thousand feet!” She tells him how he used to look “so cute” in his “white sailor suit, aboard” a “big, white yacht” that he’s “no longer got.” The song is humorous, yet not in a farcical way; it’s in Braxton’s delivery that this number soars, as she claims ownership of the moment, the sentiment, and thus, the crowd.
2. ‘Trouble’ | Brenda Braxton and DeLee Lively
Watching Braxton and DeLee Lively perform Elvis Presley’s classic “Trouble” is sugar for the soul. The duo adds an air of mystery and unpredictability to the original recording. The two go back and forth — taking on the song’s memorable verses independently — before uniting to finish off the number, and simultaneously uttering “so don’t you mess around with me” before exiting the stage. And, who can forget the perfect saucy and slow choreography, with a lit bit of fast-paced shimmying added in for good measure?
3. ‘Hound Dog’ | B.J. Crosby
B.J. Crosby has an unparalleled set of pipes; she hits the notes and holds ‘em effortlessly, turning Presley’s “Hound Dog” into a reprimanding rouser. She comes in hard and slow on the “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,” as she continues to put her stage partner, and the entire audience, in the dog house. She’s got no patience for BS, and she’ll see right through a man trying to get one over on her. She’s no fool, and she’s ready to let everyone know it.
B.J. Crosby steals the show with this number, as well as her commanding performance of “Fools Fall in Love.” Take a moment to listen (or re-listen) to the soundtrack, if only to appreciate the musical powerhouse that is B.J. Crosby.