When Tracey Bonner was asked to come to the Woodford Theatre to direct "Smokey Joe's Cafe," she knew she had to say yes, and not just because of the revue's reputation as a high-energy, fun musical.
It was also a chance to reunite in the theater with her family.
The show will bring Bonner together with her mother, music director Donna Bonner, and her sister, actor Amanda Bonner Church. It's their first show together in 20 years, the last one being Paul Laurence Dunbar High School's 1998 production of "Crazy For You" — Donna taught and was the music director, Tracey choreographed, and Amanda played the lead.
"Smokey Joe's Cafe" is their first professional production together.
Although working with family may seem tough at first glance, the women say it’s not hard.
“It hasn’t been a difficult situation for us because everyone has to work together in a musical to make it happen,” Donna said.
The show, opening Friday night, showcases the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in a 1950s setting. It boasts 39 original songs such as the Elvis Presley classics "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock," celebrating classic rock and roll, blues and jazz in a variety show backdrop.
Tracey said the idealized 1950s setting, which recalls TV shows like "American Bandstand," pulls the show together better than the original Broadway run. Eye-popping costumes contrast against a black-and-white bandstand set in order to achieve the larger-than-life effect many early variety shows had. With almost no dialogue, "Smokey Joe’s Cafe" is a pure, two-hour celebration of mid-century American music.
“Our hope as artists is we provide this idealistic image that has heart and soul,” Tracey said.
For Donna, the music director, coordinating more than triple the number of songs than a regular musical isn’t hard because the music is so good.
Since the performers are younger, she said, they aren’t as familiar with the classic songs like "Stand by Me" and "Poison Ivy" and are are getting the chance to “fall in love with them.”
Amanda, who also serves as the show’s dance captain, described the show as a “nonstop party.”
“The next song is your favorite song,” she said.
Although Tracey said much of the cast is new to theater, she was optimistic about their potential and enthusiasm about the song-packed show.
“The voices in this cast are some of the best voices in this region,” she said.
The family members, originally from Lexington, rarely have the chance to work together. Tracey works as the BFA Dance Coordinator in the School of the Arts at Northern Kentucky University, and Amanda travels to perform with shows — some of her favorites include "Mamma Mia" and two productions of "Steel Magnolias" — and will be working in Atlanta this November.
But for now, they are brought together by the jukebox rock of "Smokey Joe's Cafe."
IF YOU GO
'Smokey Joe's Cafe'
What: Woodford Theatre's production of the jukebox musical featuring songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
When: 8 p.m. May 18, 19, 25, 26, June 1, 2; 7:30 p.m. May 31; 2 p.m. May 20, 27, June 3.
Where: Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center, 275 Beasley Drive, Versailles
Tickets: $15 students, $22 adults