After seeing Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s acclaimed production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe — The Songs of Lieber and Stoller” last fall, producer Jim Jensen had one thought: This show would be perfect for Chicago’s Royal George Cabaret.
Jensen, producer of concerts and manager of special projects for Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, should know. He worked as Royal George’s general manager for 14 years, and was there in 1994 when the show’s precursor “Baby That’s Rock ’n’ Roll, The Songs of Lieber and Stoller” debuted in advance of its Broadway opening.
“I was impressed with the cast, their talent, energy and enthusiasm,” said Jensen, who also noted what fun the audience was having at Theo Ubique’s revival.
The idea of returning the show to its roots grew. Gitta K. Jacobs, Jensen’s producing partner in SJCChicago, has seen it as well and believed, as Jensen did, that it would fit perfectly at Royal George.
A phone call to Theo Ubique artistic director Fred Anzevino and the show’s director, Lincolnshire native Brenda Didier, started the wheels turning on the show’s commercial transfer. With one caveat: The show should transfer lock, stock and barrel, with the same cast and creative team.
“Our intention was never to tamper with something that worked so well,” Jensen said.
Every member of the tight-knit ensemble will return, including Woodridge native Justin Adair.
A graduate of Downers Grove South High School and the College of DuPage, the classically trained Adair studied opera at Roosevelt University under Richard Stillwell, a veteran of Covent Garden, La Scala and Metropolitan operas, and Matthew Chellis, of New York City Opera.
After graduating in 2010, he performed a pair of new works with Chicago Opera Vanguard. Cast as Fabrizio in Theo Ubique’s 2011 production of “The Light in the Piazza,” he earned a non-equity Joseph Jefferson Award for supporting actor in a musical.
“I loved the experience,” Adair said of performing in the company’s intimate space at Chicago’s No Exit Cafe. “Being so close to the audience ... you want to make each scene and song as true as possible.”
Adair says that while he has always enjoyed contemporary music, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” — with tunes like “On Broadway” and “Jailhouse Rock” — marks one of his first forays into pop.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” says Adair, who teaches music to Chicago Public School students. “These songs are so singable, fun and energetic.”
Adair knew “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” would be popular. He figured it would run eight or 10 weeks and he’d move onto something else. But rave reviews prompted an extension and a run that lasted several months. After it concluded, Adair began looking for another show. He’d found one when he was invited to reprise his role in the Royal George remount.
Adair chose “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”
“To be able to stick with the show and take it to its next life is a great opportunity,” said Adair. “Everybody’s pretty psyched at another opportunity to reach more people.”
For baby boomers, the show’s classic rock ’n’ roll score represents the soundtrack of their youth, yet Jensen says the family-friendly, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” has a cross-generational appeal that could keep it at the Royal George beyond its scheduled May 26 closing.
“When we opened ‘Forever Plaid’ (at Royal George) we were hoping for six months,” he said. “It ran seven years.”
Considering its past success, Theo Ubique’s “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” could be around for a while.
“There’s no telling what the future holds for any of us,” Adair said. But he and his castmates have cleared their schedules, just in case.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.