Get to know the cast of Smokey Joe’s Cafe

Jess Grams, Ordway 8/27/19

A show like Smokey Joe’s Cafe doesn’t become Broadway’s longest-running musical revue without reaching into the hearts of audiences. Have you ever wondered how the performers feel sharing the most beloved songs of the last century? We stopped by rehearsal and asked the cast of the Ordway’s refreshing new production to share their love for the music of Leiber and Stoller, and talk about nostalgia.

The Cast of Smokey Joe's Cafe at The Ordway
Clockwise from far left: Jorie Kosel, Ben Bakken, Rendell DeBose, China Brickey, Dwight Leslie, Rajané Katurah, Emily Scinto, Shavey Brown, and Kevin Brown Jr. Not pictured are standbys Reese Britts and Andrea Mislan.

When did you first see or hear Smokey Joe’s Cafe? What was your first impression?

Bakken: I saw it at Hey City Theater way back, with musical direction by Sanford Moore, when I was in college.
Brown: I saw the original Broadway production and loved seeing all these men who looked like me do their thing.
Britts: I saw it at KCACTF (Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival) and fell in love with it.
Brown, Jr.: From my voice teacher in college! She introduced me to the show a couple of years ago and said I’d be in it one day. I fell in love with the music shortly after that!
Scinto: I saw a college production a few years ago and I fell in love immediately. It blew me away.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe is full of so many beloved tunes. If you could sing another character’s song from the show, which would it be?

Bakken: Any of Shavey (Brown)’s bass vocals!
Brown: “Trouble!” I just love the style of it and to sit still and sing a song would be amazing.
Britts: “Kansas City!” I love it. Or “Hound Dog,” but Raj (cast member Rajané Katurah) sings it better than anyone I know.  
Brown, Jr.: “Don Juan” is pretty fire.
Scinto: I’d sing “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s such a killer number and it would be so cool to perform.
Kosel: Oh, I love “Don Juan,” purely for the sass. Or “Love Me/Don’t” because, you know… Elvis.
Leslie: “I Who Have Nothing.” When I was in callbacks, I was instructed to listen to the Ben E. King version and I fell in love—definitely a favorite.
Katurah: “Don Juan” because it’s so fun and sassy!
Brickey: This far in the process I love “Bossa Nova Baby.”

Do you have any friends or family members excited to hear you sing songs that evoke feelings of nostalgia?

Kosel: My grandparents will die happy after seeing me in this show. They helped raise me and instilled in me an early love for 50’s–70’s rockabilly.
Katurah: My grandparents who would have been excited have passed but they’d love to see me in this show. I believe they are watching from above.

What are songs that take you back and make you feel nostalgia? They don’t have to be written by Leiber and Stoller…

Brown: “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston.
Brown, Jr.: “Flying Without Wings” by Ruben Studdard, and “Look at Me Now” by Chris Brown, featuring Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne.
Bakken: “Stand by Me” is an all time favorite—the only song I ever plunked on a piano.
Scinto: Just dorky songs I listened to in middle school! Probably some old Disney Channel songs.
Mislan: Elvis Presley songs… my mom’s favorites.
Kosel: Janis (Joplin), Elvis (Presley), any Bobby Darin, especially “Splish Splash,” ” Multiplication,” and “Artificial Flowers.”
Leslie: “Trust Issues” by Drake.
DeBose: “On Broadway!”
Katurah: “(Take My Hand) Precious Lord.”
Brickey: Maroon 5, Songs about Jane, anything from that album—or Avril Lavigne takes me right back to being a li’l preteen.


Smokey Joe’s Cafe performs September 10-22 in the Ordway Music Theater. Tickets are available online or by phone at 651.224.4222.

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