Whenever I begin work on a new musical, I start with what most directors start with: research. I can assure you that I’ve never had more fun in my entire career than doing my research for this show. Since Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a musical review of rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues hits by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, my research consisted of spending dozens of hours listening to the extraordinary songs of this songwriting duo. There are so many different versions of these classic songs. Of course there are the versions that we’re all familiar with, but then when you keep digging you find there are other recordings of the same songs from artists that you’ve never heard of, even new recordings from current artists. It was then that I began to realize just how deeply these songs are woven into our culture; some of them have been recorded by artists throughout the last seven decades. But these aren’t just songs, they were the soundtrack of a generation, of multiple generations, and that’s why artists today are still recording this music, and why we love to listen to it.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller changed the trajectory of both rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Their music not only revolutionized popular music but also influenced popular culture. They were a driving force in the crossover of blues and R&B into popular music. Among the artists they regularly wrote for were The Drifters, The Coasters, Elvis Presley, Ben E. King and Peggy Lee to name a few, and the song writing team has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
We knew that by reviving this show we were going to need to make some changes. The very successful original production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe was developed with the unique and astounding talents of that original cast. We knew we couldn’t replicate those performances, so instead we searched for a new cast that would be unique and astounding in their own ways, and we would build this production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe specifically for them. And luckily, we’ve had a secret weapon to help us achieve our goal: Mike Stoller. One of the most wonderful aspects of this experience for the entire company, myself included, has been to have Mr. Stoller in rehearsal with us. He’s been able to coach us through each song so we have the right feel for the sound and right understanding of the lyrics. He’s also been able to work with our Music Director Sonny Paladino and the rest of the band to help us develop this production with incredible authenticity. I can confidently speak for everyone on the team when I say, ‘Thank You, Mike! You are a gentleman, a prince, a genius and a national treasure.’