ACT II: A second look at area stages — ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ at the Royal George
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org March 14, 2013 4:16PM
Smokey Joe's Cafe shot on March 6, 2013. (Photo by Anthony Robert La Penna)
‘SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE: THE SONGS OF LEIBER & STOLLER’
When: Through May 26
Where: Royal George Cabaret, 1641 N. Halsted
Info: (312) 988-9000; www.ticketmaster.com
Updated: March 20, 2013 8:58PM
Brenda Didier, who last fall directed and choreographed a smash hit production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe — The Songs of Leiber and Stoller” at the Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre storefront, confesses she “never in a million years” thought the show would go on to have a commercial life.
Happily, she was wrong. This weekend, following a preview period that already has generated considerable buzz, the show, produced by a consortium calling itself SJCChicago, is celebrating its official opening at the Royal George Cabaret — the same place where such musicals as “The Doyle & Debby Show” and “Forever Plaid” enjoyed success. (Ironically enough, it was on the Royal George mainstage that “Smokey Joe’s” had a pre-Broadway tryout during the summer of 1994.)
What Didier did sense, from the very start, was that the show, which includes rousing renditions of 39 pop standards including “Yakety Yak,” “Love Potion #9,” “Hound Dog,” “Teach Me How to Shimmy,” “Spanish Harlem” and “Jailhouse Rock,” had formidable cross-generational appeal.
“I knew those in our audiences who had grown up with that music would love it,” she said. “But these songs also connected to the generation that has grown up with ‘Glee,’ ‘Smash’ and ‘American Idol.’ And the cast’s youthful quality reinforced that. This show speaks to all ages.”
The marvelous cast of eight that began at Theo Ubique remains unchanged, including Vasily Deris, Sydney Charles, Britt-Marie Sivertsen, Kasey Alfonso, Jaymes Osborne, TJ Crawford, Steve Perkins and Justin Adair. And their performances of the Leiber and Stoller jukebox score easily reinforces that pair’s status as one of the most theatrically savvy rock, pop, rhythm and blues and jazz songwriting teams from the late 1950s through the early ’80s. (The band, too, is the same, aside from music director Jeremy Ramey who is now leading “Aspects of Love” back at Theo Ubique.)
“The actors’ salaries have improved a bit,” said Didier. “And they’re thrilled to be given dinner between the Saturday matinee and evening performances. They also have really nice dressing room facilities.”
But perhaps the biggest change is that unlike at Theo Ubique, where the actors serve food and beverages to the audience until a few seconds before the show begins, there is no waiting on tables now.
“And they don’t know what to do with themselves,” said Didier, laughing. “They almost miss that.”