In Part One of our series of interviews with the cast of Arena Stage’s Smokey Joe’s Café, meet Kara-Tameika Watkins.
Why did you want to be a part of the cast of Smokey Joe’s Café at Arena Stage?
I love Arena and I love Smokey Joe’s Café. It just felt like I had to be a part of this.
What did you know about Leiber and Stoller before you came in to the production, and what are some of the interesting things you have learned about them and their music since you became involved in the show?
I grew up with this music. My parents had a huge record collection that included Peggy Lee, The Drifters, Ben E King, etc, and my best friend’s father had every Elvis movie on VHS, so I came in already knowing most of the songs in the show.
Have you appeared in a production of Smokey Joe’s Café before and if so, who did you play?
I did Smokey Joe’s Café before in Reno for over a year and in Bethesda as a swing, which meant I covered all four women in the show and I got to go on for all four parts!
How would you describe Parker Esse’s choreography and what dances are the ones you love the most?
Parker is such a smart choreographer. In this production he played to our strengths while staying true to the style of the period. My favorites are the men in “On Broadway” and “Little Egypt.”
How would you describe Randy Johnson’s vision for this production of Smokey Joe’s Café
Randy wanted all of us to have a through storyline so there was a little more character development beyond just presenting a song. He would say things like, “When you’re leaving the stage, where are you going? Where did you come from? Who is this person to you? How do you know each other? Did you grow up together? What is your relationship? “I can’t say how many times people that came to the show tell me that they see our relationships and through line in this production.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Smokey Joe’s Café?
I want those that lived it to go back to the days of hanging out in the neighborhood forming Doo Wop groups, going to sock hops and watching Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show. For two hours I’d like them to relive their youth and for younger audience members to have a taste of that and learn the music that put R&B and Rock n’ Roll on the charts.
Kara-Tameika Watkins returns to Arena Stage after last appearing in Crowns. Additional credits include Dreamgirls (Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Resident Musical), Hairspray (Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Resident Musical and Ensemble) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Signature Theatre; Camelot and Peter Pan at Olney Theatre Center; Little Shop of Horrors and Children of Eden at Ford’s Theatre; Caroline, or Change at The Studio Theatre; Once on This Island at Round House Theatre; Hairspray at PCLO and North Shore Music Theatre; and the Nevada productions of Hairspray and Smokey Joe’s Café.