Brook Hall came up with the idea of putting on Smokey Joe’s Cafe in Taiwan a few years ago. The choreographer and director, who came to Taiwan seven years ago, saw the revue as the perfect show both for Taiwanese performers interested in American musical theater and for local audiences.
He already had some experience in helping stage a English-language musical in Taipei, having been the choreographer for I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at the Crown Theater (皇冠藝文中心小劇場) in November 2007. He had also built a reputation in Taiwan as a dancer and director, adding to a US resume that included performing in dozens of musicals in New York, regional theaters and national tours.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe or SJC as Hall calls it, debuted in Los Angeles in 1984 and hit Broadway the following year. The original Broadway cast soundtrack won a Grammy Award in 1995 and the show ran for 2,036 performances. It’s based on rock ’n’ roll and R ‘n’ B songs written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, whose myriad hits for artists such as The Drifters, The Coasters, Peggy Lee and Elvis Presley in the 1950s and 1960s included Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Spanish Harlem, Love Potion No. 9 and I’m a Woman.
“SJC is one of those rare shows that makes it appeal to a wide selection of audiences. It has rock music to appeal to those who don’t usually appreciate musicals. It has dance for those who get bored listening to singing. It is light and energetic and upbeat. It has a boy-band style aspect that appeals to fans of current boy bands,” Hall wrote in a prospectus for sponsors for the show.
Originally, Hall envisioned doing Smokey Joe’s just as a showcase at the tiny Guling Street Avant-Garde Theater (牯嶺街小劇場).
WHAT: Smokey Joe’s Cafe
WHEN: Jan. 16 and Jan. 17 at 7:30pm, matinees
on Jan. 17 and Jan. 18 at 2:30pm
WHERE: National Taiwan Arts Education Center
(國立台灣藝術教育館本部及演藝廳), 47 Nanhai Rd, Taipei City (台北市南海路47號)
TICKETS: NT$500, NT$700 and NT$900,
available at Eslite bookstores, NTCH ticketing (www.artsticket.com.tw) or by calling
(02) 2742-3595 for English-language booking
or (02) 3393-9888 for Mandarin booking.
The lines are open Monday through
Friday from 10am to 6pm
Cedric Alviani of Infine Art and Culture Exchange, one of the producers, said that as his team and Hall talked about doing the show, it became clear that they needed to make more of a splash.
“The more we talked, we decided to move to a slightly bigger theater, hoping to find sponsors for an even bigger show,” Alviani said. “We hope this can travel [around] Taiwan in the future.”
“I realized that if I was going to do this, I had to go full-out,” Hall said.
While the four shows next weekend at the 500-seat National Taiwan Arts Education Center (國立台灣藝術教育館) theater will be performed in English with Chinese subtitles, Hall has made some changes to cater to local tastes.
“Originally SJC didn’t have much of a story, but people in Taiwan said ‘You have to have a story,’ so I have added story so we know who they [the characters] are and where they are. I added some romance because the blues aren’t called the blues for nothing. So now we’ll see a young couple and their problems,” Hall said at a press conference at Guling Street theater last month.
He also played around with the song list to make the storyline clearer and beefed up the cast. The original show had nine performers, but Hall has 13, along with a six-piece band and conductor.
“A lot of people ask me if you can find performers talented enough [in Taiwan] and I think you will see we have people as talented as those in New York, so when I hear ‘Taiwan[ese] people can’t,’ I want to say ‘you can,’” he said.
There maybe some familiar faces, including a few from I Love You, but almost everyone had to go through the full audition process, something Hall said was not common in Taiwan. He posted audition notices on university bulletin boards and on Facebook and talked to theater companies. Applicants had to choose one of four songs to perform for their audition; in the end about 80 people tried out.