Songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller penned music that defined a generation.
“Hound Dog,” “On Broadway,” “I’m a Woman” and “Stand By Me” are iconic songs from the 1950s and ’60s, and all written by Leiber and Stoller.
The work of that legendary team will be celebrated in LaGrange College Theatre’s production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” running Nov. 6–10.
Kim Barber Knoll, who heads up the college’s theatre arts program, is directing, while Toni Anderson, coordinator of the music department, is serving as musical director. Nancy Gell is the choreographer.
Knoll said the show, the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history, was chosen as the inaugural production in the newly renovated Price Theater because of its energy.
“We wanted this first show to ‘rock’ as much as this beautiful new theater does,” she said. “‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ is exciting and upbeat, and has something everyone will love.”
Fans of LaGrange High School’s chorus may see a familiar face or two on stage.
Malcolm Stephen is a junior at LaGrange High, and Jalen Smith, a freshman musical theater major, graduated from LHS last year.
Stephen said he was encouraged to audition by his chorus teacher, Katie Westbrook.
“I’ve had experience with these kinds of shows at the high school,” he said, “But I never imagined the amount of work that goes into a show like this. It’s not just learn your music and dance and show up. Here, you break songs down a lot more, and you get direct feedback from the director on every number. That’s been great.”
The revue features 39 standards performed by 13 students who are backed by a seven-piece band. Knoll said the production was a perfect way to showcase the talents of current and incoming students, an effort appreciated by a freshman musical theatre major.
“I didn’t know anybody when I auditioned,” said Amy Docalavich, who transferred from Georgia Southern University. “But when I saw who was cast and heard all those great voices, I knew it was all going to be good.”
Alyese Wilkerson, the cast’s lone senior, agrees.
“I love how all of our voices blend so well,” she said, “Each voice has been perfectly paired with the right song, almost like they were tailor-made for every one of us.”
Wilkerson said this is her first musical, and it has offered some challenges.
“Learning the choreography and trying to sing at the same time was a little difficult,” she said. “But I discovered that I’m a patient person.”
Another actor who struggled with the choreography was Austin Taylor, a junior.
“I’ve never danced before – ever, ever,” he said. “The dance call at auditions was absolutely terrifying. But I figured it out.”
On the flip side, freshman Sadie Gibson had plenty of dance experience.
“I didn’t have a problem with the choreography, but the music and lines were throwing me at first,” she said. “It is so cool to see how singing, acting and dancing all come together.”
Knoll said Gibson is a featured dancer in the production.
“Her dance experience was really helpful in the full company numbers.”
Gell, who worked closely with Knoll to develop the choreography, said studying the music and period for the show helped shape her vision.
“Because these were popular songs, I wanted to capture a sense of how performers and dancers of the period moved,” she said. “There is a lot of humor in many of the songs, and it was fun coming up with movements that fit.”
The show’s live band brings a big boost to the production’s dynamics, the cast said.
“We learned the choreography without the band and some of it was very tricky with just a piano,” said Kevin Metasavage, a junior theatre major. “But as soon as we added the full band, it all clicked.”
“They feel everything with us,” Docalavich said. “It is more of a relationship, more of a team effort with them.”
Musicians include faculty members Toni Anderson, Ken Passmore, Mitch Turner, Brian Smith and Robin Treadwell, as well as students LePatrick Browning and Brian Kempson.
Although the song titles may sound familiar, Meagan Thompson said the audience may be in for a surprise.
“People know a lot of this music, but they probably haven’t heard it performed the way we do,” she said. “This show delivers those songs as refreshing and new, and people are going to love it.”
Put aside the music, the words and the dance and there still is something very special about this production, said Lawrence West, a sophomore musical theatre major.
“I think that our camaraderie is what makes this show work,” he said. “We all work together as a great team. We’ve gotten to the point where we feel like just a bunch of friends hanging out and having fun. And that is what our audiences are going to love.”
Showtimes for “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” are 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6–9 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10. General admission tickets are $10, and $7 for senior citizens and non-LC students. To make reservations, call the box office at (706) 880-8080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.