Step Inside 'Smokey Joe's Cafe,' a Parade Of Pop History


Sifting by means of the catalog of songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller can really feel like a digital tour of pop historical past, from the artists who popularized their songs — Elvis Presley, the Coasters, the Drifters, Ben E. King — to the songs themselves, a panoply of hits together with "Hound Dog," "Jail House Rock," "Stand by Me," "On Broadway, "Spanish Harlem" and "Love Potion No. 9" (and that simply skims the floor). Leiber and Stoller's over 70 hits span the 1950s to the early 1970s — no shock, then, that they've been inducted into each the Songwriters and Rock & Roll Halls of Fame, and that, as with so many different pop writers, their music made it to Broadway, within the 1995 musical revue Smokey Joe's Cafe. The present ran for almost 5 years, was nominated for 5 Tonys, and its forged recording gained a Grammy.

Now, the present has come again to life in a brand new manufacturing off-Broadway (in an open run at Stage 42), the place a vibrant younger forged is introducing Leiber and Stoller's songs to a various viewers. As forged members Alysha Umphress and Dwayne Cooper and director Joshua Bergasse clarify on this week's Billboard on Broadway podcast, the present has stunning depths. "They say it's the unique jukebox musical, however as an alternative of making an attempt to shoehorn these songs into positions the place they needed to inform a narrative or give a personality arc, they simply did it as a revue," Bergasse explains concerning the present's pretty distinctive format. "You can simply respect the songs for what they're -- and I believe it really works higher that means." "Every tune is its personal story," Umphress provides.  

Though Broadway has seen many profitable revues, Smokey Joe's Cafe nonetheless stands out as a pioneering present. "It was a kind of nice exhibits that options so many African-American individuals," says Cooper. "It's a ceremony of passage for me to be a part of it." Its enduring enchantment, the trio say, has the whole lot to do with the music itself. "The lyrics really feel timeless -- songs like "Stand By Me," the message transcends time," Cooper says. "They simply knew easy methods to write hits," Umphress says of Leiber and Stoller. "The present isn't even their entire catalog....and you continue to get a lot affect from 40 songs [in the show]." 

In their chat with host Rebecca Milzoff, Bergasse, Cooper and Umphress delve into how they introduced a contemporary spin to Smokey Joe's Cafe -- and why audiences are nonetheless going loopy for it. 

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