In Part Two of our series of interviews with the cast of Arena Stage’s Smokey Joe’s Café, meet Austin Colby.
Joel: Why did you want to be a part of the cast of Smokey Joe’s Café’ at Arena Stage?
Austin: I had the privilege of doing Smokey Joe’s Café a couple of years ago. While rehearsing and performing, I grew close with one of my castmates. His impact on my life encourages me to live life to the fullest. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago so having another chance to do this show is like a tribute to his life. I think of him every night during “Stand by Me”.
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’ve always been familiar with a majority of the songs but after meeting Mike Stoller, I learned a lot of fun stories that I enjoy thinking about while performing.
What solos do you have in the show and how do you relate to the songs?
I sing “Poison Ivy,” “Teach Me How to Shimmy,” “Love Potion #9” and “Spanish Harlem.” Throughout this process, I feel like I related most with “Teach Me How to Shimmy.” Our wonderful choreographer, Parker Esse really helped build my confidence about my dancing ability. Hopefully, I can try out some of the moves on my girlfriend when we go out dancing.
Have you appeared in a production of Smokey Joe’s Café’ before?
I did and I sang different songs. Last time, I sang “Ruby Baby,” “Kansas City” and “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s neat to do the show again with new material. It allows me to have an entirely different experience and see things from a different point of view.
What do you admire most about your fellow cast members’ performances?
I am so fortunate to perform with such amazingly talented cast. Each member has their star moment in the show.
How would you describe a Leiber and Stoller song?
Feel-good music, soulful, heartfelt, fun, timeless.
Why do you think Leiber and Stoller’s songs are timeless?
Leiber and Stoller wrote music about things that anyone and everyone of all ages can relate to. It’s amazing to see the reactions from many audience members, from the children’s groups that come from school to the people who were in school when the songs were written.
How would you describe Parker Esse’s choreography and what dances have been the hardest to learn and which is the one you love the most?
I really enjoyed my experience working with Parker. As a choreographer, he is encouraging but he also expects excellence from you as a performer. His choreography just makes sense with each number. It’s an honor to be able to showcase his work every night. While they were a challenge to learn in rehearsals, I have a blast doing numbers like “On Broadway” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
How would you describe Randy Johnson’s vision for this production of Smokey Joe’s Café’?
I loved the way he focused on the idea of memories in this production. The photographs that project above the stage, the relationships we created as our characters and as performers and the different images of things fading in and out throughout the show really contributed to this theme. He told us he cast this show specifically because of our individual talents and hoped to showcase our abilities, colors and flavors to create something unique. His favorite word to use in rehearsal was creativity and I think he was pleased with the final product.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Smokey Joe’s Café’
An actor’s job is to stimulate an audience members thoughts and emotions. I hope at least one song strikes a chord with them on a deeper level and they can recall a memory, self-reflect or just celebrate the gift of music. I hope our audiences leave with a tune in their heart and a smile on their face because it brings me joy to perform for them.
Austin Colby makes his Arena Stage debut. Washington D.C. credits include Signature Theatre (Crossing and Spin), Olney Theatre Center (Cinderella, Spring Awakening and Forever Plaid) and Toby’s Dinner Theatre (Hairspray and Legally Blonde). Austin has performed regionally at Cortland Repertory Theatre (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), White Plains Performing Arts Center (Hair) and Papermill Theatre (On The Town, Smokey Joe’s Café and Altar Boyz). Austin is a proud graduate of James Madison University where he received a Bachelor of Music, Vocal Music Education Concentration. Upcoming: Signature Theatre (Sunday in the Park with George).
“Yakety Yak”: Part 1: Kara-Tameika Watkins on ‘Smokey Joe’s Café’ at Arena Stage.