Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

Belting out that pop nostalgia

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Traci Toguchi, in the "Smokey Joe's Cafe" cast, says soul-sister music is very much her style, as are the golden oldies that are part of the stage production at Richardson Theatre.

'Smokey Joe's Cafe'

A musical featuring the tunes of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, produced by Army Community Theatre

7:30 p.m. Fridays and

Saturdays through Nov. 30

Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter

$17 general, $10 children under 12 (military: $14 general, $8 children) 438-4480, 438-5230

Traci Toguchi remembers hearing the old hits of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller while she was growing up.

"My parents played them, so I knew all the songs," said Toguchi, a former Miss Hawai'i (1995) who is one of the stars in Army Community Theatre's revival of "Smokey Joe's Cafe," a popular Broadway musical showcasing a string of Leiber & Stoller hits. The show opened last night at Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter.

" 'Smokey Joe' was running on Broadway when I was living in New York," Toguchi said, "but I never went to see it. When I saw auditions for the show here, I jumped on it, because I knew Derek Daniels, the director."

She also knew she had the pipes to tackle some of the vintage and nostalgic feel-good music of the show, largely popularized by black singers and groups — and Elvis Presley — decades ago.

"I guess I have an old soul," she said of such memory-lane wonders as "Yakety-Yak," "On Broadway," "Poison Ivy," "Stand by Me," "Jailhouse Rock," "Searchin'," "Kansas City," "Little Egypt," "Spanish Harlem," "Charlie Brown," "There Goes My Baby," "Love Potion No. 9" and more.

Then again, she entered — and won — Amateur Night at the Apollo, a New York haven for black sisters and brothers, hoping to land a recording contract. Her big number then was another black-oriented rouser, "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," from "Dreamgirls."

In her weekend club shows, she frequently performs tunes from the "Smokey" soundtrack. "I love music from the '60s and the '70s; my band members often wonder how come."

"Smokey Joe" enables her to wail like a soul sister.

Her audition song for "Smokey Joe" was "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," the signature of Aretha Franklin, with all the bells and whistles of a soul sister.

"It's my style, my genre of music, really," she said. "I'm not really singing like a black person, but I used to watch 'Soul Train' and 'Amateur Night at the Apollo,' and I think that's my second skin."

About 20 members are in the "Smokey" cast, which includes seven or eight dancers. The singers do a mix of music, as soloists, duets, trios, quartets.

Toguchi said she lived in Los Angeles and New York, where she was a small fish in a huge sea, and decided to come home. She has written 300 songs and is paring down the list to begin recording her debut CD for release next spring.

"There will be belters and ballads, and because I am from Hawai'i, I figured it would be wise to include some island songs," she said. One possibility is a tune called "Feel the Breeze," which she wrote after watching a

Sheryl Crow video shot in Hawai'i earlier this year. "Seeing the blue water, I knew I had to have something that would sell CDs in Hawai'i."

After Toguchi won the Apollo talent contest, handlers tried placing her in various groups. "I was the token Asian," she sighed.

But trials and tribulations have given her more drive to succeed.

"In L.A., I was cheated out of money when a guy told me he discovered Brandy, the singer, and he could help me," she said. "I was so gullible. I was watching VH1 one night, and this guy told the same story, but he was the real thing and not the one who cheated me. I knew where he got his story. That's when I decided to come back home."

Meanwhile, she's been temping, to pay the bills, between her weekend singing stints. "My goal is to go national," Toguchi said of her musical aspirations. "There are a lot of $10,000 deals out there, but they don't mean anything. I'm hoping for something better."