Smokey Joe's Cafe First Offering By New 'Baby on the Block'

He was a singing tap dancer. He did the Great Caruso dinner theater (before it burned down). Switching gears, he went silent for a while as a mime at Sea World in San Antonio. He took on duties as a choreographer and worked for eight years in a musical theater lab at the University of Houston.

Now Aaron Callies is the director/ choreographer of the Musical Theatre of Houston and for two nights in mid-January, his company will open its first show in Houston with their own version of Tony-award winning Smokey Joe's Café at the Wortham Center.

Musical Theatre, which bills itself as the "new musical theater in Houston," took a couple of sidesteps to get to Smokey Joe's Cafe. "Our first production was Flower Power. We tested it in Corpus Christi," Callies said, explaining that "Houston audiences are theater savvy," and that they wanted to test out a new production somewhere else. That was in 2007 and after that they decided to put it on hold and workshop it some more.

They next fixed their sights Jesus Christ Superstar. "We had a license conflict with a national tour that came through Dallas this past summer," he said. They hope to put it on in the summer of 2011 followed by Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies in fall of 2011.

The actors they've used so far have all been from Houston; they hold open auditions for each production.

Callies say their audience is "people who enjoy Broadway musicals and people who enjoy oldies." Songs in the two-hour (including intermission) Smokey Joe's Café include "Kansas City," "Poison Ivy," "Stand By Me" and "I'm a Woman" (the last one is a showstopper he promises.)

"Most were written in the '60s and '70s. Smokey Joe's was five years on Broadway. It won a truckload of musical awards," he said.

There are 20 cast members in this production as opposed to the seven in the Broadway version, he said. "I wanted to bump it up and do some new things."

"We're advertising it as the new 'twice the music, twice the dancing, twice the rock and roll.' We've expanded the dance breaks. We've bumped up the look of it to make it bigger visually aesthetically also. There's a live band on stage."

"Some people have asked us if we're competing with TUTS and Masquerade," Callies said. "And my answer is no; we're just the new Broadway baby on the block."

Smokey Joe's Café runs at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas Avenue, January 14 and 15. Go to ticketmaster.com for ticket information.

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