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April 11, 2008

"Leatherheads" & "Smokey Joe"

Roy Meachum

Much to my surprise, "Smokey Joe's Cafe" enchanted and George Clooney's new flick did not.


The relatively new Bethesda Theatre has come up with a smashing show.


"Smokey Joe's Cafe" is a new-fangled musical revue, glorifying the works of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. Never heard of them? How about these songs? "Kansas City," "Trouble," "Fools Fall in Love," and "Poison Ivy." They're scattered into the first act.


After intermission: "Baby, That's Rock and Roll," "Yakety Yak" and "Charlie Brown" are followed by "Loving You," "I'm a Woman," and "There Goes My Baby."


Turns out Elvis Presley didn't come up with "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock." Composers Lieber and Stoller claim that top-of-the-chart pair. Along with "Poison Ivy," a tune that I've always liked.


If that list doesn't bedazzle, then you've never seen and heard them done by John Ashley Brown, Jennifer Byrne, and Teren Carter. Emilee Dupre, Alexander Elisa, Miles Johnson, Erick McMillan-McCall, Jasmin Walker and Aurelia Williams.


These stars slither and storm around the Bethesda Theatre's stage, sometimes to a beat provided by a hyped up audience. The men and women who filled the former movie house's rows opening night were simply getting into the show laid down by director/choreographer Chet Walker.


Mr. Walker rarely lets a sigh bring on a cloud; he's too busy keeping his stars in action and pointed in his designated direction. He makes all the right moves to enhance the impressive gifts of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.


The combination of impressive talents can only be believed if you see what I'm talking about. That's "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and it will be around whenever you decide it may just be too good a thing not to be missed. I'll guarantee, as my Arkansas cousins might declare.


The Bethesda Theatre stands out, on Wisconsin Avenue, in the heart of once-sleepy Bethesda. It don't sleep no more. Go!


Emilee Dupre in "Teach Me How to Shimmy" in the all-new production of Smokey Joe's Café at the Bethesda Theatre.

Emilee Dupre in "Teach Me How to Shimmy" in the all-new production of Smokey Joe's Café at the Bethesda Theatre. - Stan Barouh Photo





Before hauling myself and popcorn into Hoyts Frederick Towne 10 this week, I would have guessed there was no way I wouldn't like "Leatherheads."


My feelings about George Clooney are only a pace off the adoration that most of the country's female half sends in his direction.


How could I not boost the actor/director who brought my early CBS days to life? His production of Edward R. Murrow's battle with Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy hit home with me.


He played Fred Friendly. I knew the producer and as the saying goes George is no Fred, who would have loved to have Mr. Clooney's consummate charm and fantastic looks. The directors, writers and other CBS News crew did not equally luck out, but they looked a whole lot better than in our Broadcast House days 50 years back.


The hopes carried in to see "Leatherheads," along with the popcorn, had much to do with playing football not much after the film's cinematic era. We wore no completely leather helmets but our head protection was much less than the gear used today, at all levels up from kindergarten.


Unfortunately for me and the rest of the ticket buyers lured in by the promotion, "Leatherheads" spends little time with the game. It has considerably more to do with pro-football's biggest star during the roaring 20s.


A supposedly sub-plot dealing with how the character played by John Kresinski may have grabbed more glory than he deserved during World War I. How professional football really started is debased, nearly shut off the screen.


Mr. Clooney and blonde Renee Zellweger engage in sparkling repartees now and then. Only the movie's beginning and ending have much to do with playing the game; that's where all the promotion goes, however.


Neither George Clooney nor his eminent producers, including Sidney Pollack, could settle down to what "Leatherheads" is really about. What a pity!


We can see in glimpses the film's potential: the Jazz Age, Prohibition, the racy clothes and the early form of professional football are still waiting for someone to come along and put them in a scintillating film. That's not what I saw this week.


"Leatherheads" simply fails to deliver on the promotion's enticement, inviting audiences to catch George Clooney's latest hit. It's flatly not there.

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