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Smokin’ musical theater

SAMANTHA STANDRING
special to the daily

The Lake Dillon Summer Repertory Company brings to Summit County an array of musical and theatrical talent from New York, showcased in “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Music of Lieber and Stoller.”

The production is designed as a “family appropriate show,” according to co-director Josh Blanchard, and it certainly has appeal for people of all ages.

Despite the show being set in a world of 1950’s era American rock ‘n’ roll culture, the emotions and experiences depicted are relevant for any generation. Also, that Lieber and Stoller created such a range of musical styles in their work ensures that there is something to please everyone.

The show includes upbeat, melodic and classic rock songs, as well as more introspective ballads.

Leiber and Stoller’s lasting success makes the featured music recognizable to any audience.

The lack of a flowing story line in “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” also means that the show can be enjoyed either as a piece of theater, with separate sketches of experiences all coming together, or simply as a series of musical performances.

The show centers around the trials of love, with the individual snapshots of life witnessed in Act 1 being drawn together as the characters gravitate toward the cafe in Act 2.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is the longest running musical review on Broadway, and Lake Dillon Theatre’s interpretation of the show makes it easy to see why. They both capture the traditional iconic style and add their own original spark. The result is a classic show featuring rock favorites with a fresh twist.

Costume designer Meredith S. Murphy considers “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” to be “normally a cookie-cutter show” in terms of the clothes used, specifically for numbers like “On Broadway” and “Poison Ivy.” She explains that, in conjunction with co-director Juliana Black, she tried to move away from this to create a new image. The cast’s opening all-white outfits are striking, as is the contrast of bold colors against black for some of the men’s costumes.

Likewise, the choreography used is clever and at times very comedic. The choreography also makes imaginative use of props, with performers opening out newspapers in synchrony and dancing with suitcases. This has been extended to intuitive ways to change scenes, such as one performer spinning on stage in an unraveling dress to collect a standing microphone.

The cast members themselves are also captivating. They bring together beautiful harmonies and stunning solo vocals. The dancing is at times very defined and fun to watch. The performers demonstrate a range of acting skills, giving every personality trait and emotion from cheeky to heartbroken. Their aptitude is a reflection of the level of their previous work.

Some of the company members had just returned from national tours when they auditioned for Lake Dillon Theatre in January in New York City. Performers were chosen based on the diversity of their skills, as each person must feature in multiple shows for the Lake Dillon Theatre Company this summer.

When asked why they specifically went to New York to audition, Blanchard laughed, replying that’s “where the talent is.” Based on the standard of their selected performers, no one could disagree.

Their seemingly effortless portrayal is rendered even more impressive given the time constraints on this production. All of the actors are in three different shows and will be performing around eight times a week. Not only has this meant less time rehearsing for the cast, but also it has put constraints on the production team.

Murphy explained that usually a cast will have five fittings for their costumes. For this show, there was only time for one before the first dress rehearsal.

The nature of the show itself, without one continuing story line, further creates additional demands. This is due to there being many performers on stage at once with almost no breaks between songs and the subsequent need for quick set and costume changes. Murphy said that this has made the production more challenging than previous shows she has worked on.

They get around these difficulties by using specially designed costumes that are easier to change into and out of. This includes using quick rigging on many of the shirts, in which Velcro is hidden underneath buttons to create a practical but still traditional-looking outfit. They also use specific costume props such as clip-on ties.

The Lake Dillon Theatre Company has created an all-round excellent show – one not to be missed.


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