Working day and night - Production company co-founder works the office and the stage
February 26, 2009
BY Richard Duckett, TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
As he sat in his office at Irving Street Rep in Newark, N.J., Ron Lucas was busy.
“Right now I’m at my desk filling out forms, writing checks and booking shows,” he said, while also talking on the telephone.
Still, Lucas does manage to get out of the office quite a bit. Last year, he was at “Smokey Joe’s Café” more than 60 times — and no one at Irving Street Rep minded.
Lucas is a co-founder and the producer for Irving Street Rep, a production company with a roster of seven shows that tour the country. He’s also an actor and singer. So when “Smokey Joe’s Café” comes to the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts for two performances Saturday and Sunday, he’ll be singing in his own show.
There will be a lot of singing. “It’s gonna be a really great show. We want people to sing along. We want that more than anything,” Lucas said.
“Smokey Joe’s Café” is a musical revue built around the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Their names may not immediately ring a bell, but the titles of their songs will likely strike chords of recognition — “Hound Dog” ... “Jailhouse Rock” ... “Spanish Harlem” ... “Stand By Me” ... “Kansas City” ... “On Broadway” ... “Love Potion No. 9” ... “There Goes My Baby” ... to name but a few.
The staging is usually in a café-style setting with room for an appreciative audience — and a sign prominent that says “Smokey Joe’s.” It is up to the singers to stand and deliver the music. “There’s no plot at all. It’s like a juke box musical. It’s the magnetism of the performer that sells each number,” Lucas said. The show has nine performers — five male, four female — and a five-piece band. During the course of the revue they will sing 40 songs that have a remarkable variety of musical styles.
“Smokey Joe’s Café” opened on Broadway on March 2, 1995, at the Virginia Theatre and closed on Jan. 16, 2000, after 2,036 performances, making it the longest running musical revue in Broadway history.
“They were the heavyweights,” Lucas said of Leiber and Stoller, who happily are still going strong at the time of writing. Great rock and roll, elaborate production values (Phil Spector acknowledged their influence), and songs often heavily laced with pathos or humor are all part of the songwriters’ repertoire.
Lucas, 47, has quite a repertoire and résumé as an actor. Originally from Washington, D.C., and now living in Bayonne, N.J., his roles have included John in “Miss Saigon” and Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He starred in the world premiere production of “Bingo Long,” a musical version of the movie about the Negro baseball leagues.
He was also part of a singing group — all professional actors. “We were all actors, but there weren’t always gigs,” Lucas said.
However, between them they had made some connections in the theater world, so they decided to book “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” and stage it themselves. So began Irving Street Rep and also a new chapter in the career of Lucas.
He found that that he was good at the producing end of things — be it filling out forms, writing checks, booking shows or talking to reporters. “I don’t have a business education,” Lucas said. On the other hand, there have been occasions — as most actors can attest — when being “between” jobs he’s taken temp jobs at businesses. He learned things on those jobs. “Things you didn’t know would come in handy one day.”
And it seems a logical thing — book your own work. “Absolutely, that’s the name of the game. You really have to.”
Not every actor, however, enjoys the business side. Lucas does. “I actually do. It’s satisfying to know you booked the show and then you’re performing in it. You see it from beginning to end.”
Lucas stressed “I love theater.” “Smokey Joe’s Café” has been putting him into theaters about 60 dates a year, he said.
What if he landed a part in a big Broadway show performing eight shows a week? Would he give up the day job? The office?
“I’ve always thought about that,” he said. “You don’t have to be confined to an office. If I was doing eight shows a week, I could go to my laptop. You don’t have to have an office. You don’t really have to choose.”