Nearly two decades after opening on Broadway, Smokey Joe's Café maintains the crown as a reigning king of musical revues, having run for a record-breaking 2,036 performances. The cast of the popular Leiber & Stoller revue is now joining together for a reunion show at 54 Below on February 9, helmed by Brenda Braxton, who earned a Tony nomination for her performance 19 years ago.
TheaterMania sat down with Braxton at the supper club to chat about the upcoming gathering of her old Broadway family and about life since the long-running musical, which, for her, has included opening up her very own barbershop, BBraxton: Exceptional Grooming. For Exceptional Men. Read as Braxton waxes nostalgic about her former castmates, plus, check out the video below as the singer/dancer/actress belts out one of her Tony-nominated numbers, "Don Juan."
1. You've been asked before to perform at 54 Below. What made you decide to say yes this time?
I think it's because we're going to do Smokey Joe's Café and since most of the owners here were our producers, I feel a nice camaraderie about that. I'm always nervous about doing cabarets. I started out as a dancer…I'm a dancer who can sing. So any time anyone asks me to do a cabaret, I just stress about it…but I feel at home here. And to have my cast members [who] I did the show with for five years on Broadway [is] going to be fun.
2. What period in your life and career does Smokey Joe's Café bring you back to?
Well, being nominated for a Tony Award. That was awesome. But I got married in that show. And our producers were some of the best I could ever work for. They took care of us top to bottom. It was like being in a family. We argued with each other, we were sick of each other by the time [the show ended]. We still loved each other but it was like, you know what, if I never see you ever again!—, but it was fun.
3. Has your career since that show gone the way you expected it to?
I was blessed to be able to do Chicago for ten years off and on. But to have my own show — something that I started, that I'm an original in — I thought I would have another one by now, but no such luck. I didn't think I would have a barbershop, for one thing….but I like having [it]. And it's even more intimate, because the gentlemen come in and I'm the receptionist, or I get them something to drink, or I hang up their coat. I make them laugh, I sing — they come in and I'm singing up and down the barbershop (laughs). Now we're doing the gentlemen of Motown [and] After Midnight, [and] we're doing Billy Porter's hair, so I still have my Broadway connection. BBraxton does Broadway!