The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Cast members of the Palace Theatre’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Courtesy photo.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe

Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
When: Jan. 20 through Feb. 11
Admission: $25-$45
Contact:, 668-5588

On Broadway
Smokey Joe’s Cafe features Broadway alum

By Kelly Sennott

 Angela Birchette’s first stint at the Palace Theatre was in Smokey Joe’s Cafe about 10 years ago. 

She was in her late 20s at the time and had only recently moved to New York to pursue her dream. Her first gig was with a touring circus company in which she performed as a singing ladybug. The role as B.J. in the Manchester show was her second.
The singer returns to the Queen City as a seasoned performer for the theater’s reprise of Smokey Joe’s Cafe Jan. 20 through Feb. 11. Her most recent job was on the Broadway show, The Color Purple
“It’s kind of a milestone for me because it will be a time to reflect over the last 10 years, going from nobody in New York … and literally this past Sunday, I closed my first Broadway show,” said Birchette, who audiences might also know from her Palace performances in Little Shop of Horrors and Divas Through the Decades. 
Even with her big bookings, Birchette said she’s been antsy to return to the Palace for another run at Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Every time she touched base with Palace Artistic Director Carl Rajotte, she asked, When are you bringing Smokey Joe’s back?
“It is just an amazing show. This is some of the best music ever written in our time, and to be able to come back and sing some of the songs that are literally staples for me is something I’ve really been looking forward to,” she said.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe is the longest-running Broadway revue in history with more than 2,000 performances from its 1995 opening to its 2000 closing. It’s more like a rock concert than a musical, made up of 39 songs written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller from the ’50s and ’60s, like “Ruby Baby,” “On Broadway,” “Charlie Brown,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand By Me” and some tunes made famous by Elvis like “Fools Fall in Love,” “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Rajotte said he’s been itching to go back to the show too. 
 “I just knew I would be able to put this cast together based on our connections and that it was going to be one of the better casts we’ve had. And that has definitely come true,” Rajotte said. 
Everything about this show will be different from the one 10 years ago, he said. The cast of 10 will wear bright, colorful clothes with modern designs and references to the ’50s and ’60s, and the choreography will be more “true and authentic” to that period. Sets will be fairly simple — Rajotte didn’t want to upstage the music by adding special effects and video projection. Alongside the actors will be a five-member onstage band. 
“I wanted to let [audiences] listen and enjoy these artists, these great singers, and remember their own memories,” Rajotte said. “We’ve interviewed the actors today and they all got to talk about how much this music has inspired them as artists and made them who they are as singers.”
The first two weekends will also feature The Original Coasters, famous for many songs written and produced by Leiber and Stoller. The group now features Joe Lance Williams, Dennis Anderson, Primo Candelaria and Robert Fowler and regularly performs in concerts across the country. It was the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 (crediting members in the 1958 configuration). 
After this show, Rajotte was looking forward to his annual New York audition to cast upcoming spring shows, Hairspray, Saturday Night Fever and Million Dollar Quartet.
“I’ve been very inspired by the talent, which has grown over the years,” he said. 

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