Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of Stoller and Leiber

If the memories of your youth are framed by the 50s and early 60s, and you happen to be cruising along in the dark of early evening, and the voice of Ben E. King, singing "Stand Me," comes on the car radio, it's likely that you will feel a jolt of emotion and a surge of nostalgia for years long since past but never forgotten. This song, like so many written by Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber, became the signature sound of a generation. Music that to this day can stir the soul and, in a word, rock.

Which is exactly what happens at Oregon Cabaret Theatre where this summer the song and dance show, "Smokey Joe's Cafe'," will be featured. It's a high-energy, rockin' tribute to the incomparable music of Stoller and Leiber featuring 39 of their songs. It's a wonderful show and sitting there, listening and watching as the superb cast lets it rip, singing and dancing nonstop, filling the stage with slammin' songs and mellow crooning ballads, it's ever so tempting to get up and shake, rattle and roll. Just a little.

Stoller and Leiber were remarkable: two Jewish-American white guys who grew up on the East Coast in separate immigrant neighborhoods (Baltimore and New York) bordering African-American communities where they developed an appreciation for the music called Rhythm and Blues. When the two met in Los Angeles, barely out of their teens, they began writing together, Leiber doing lyrics and Stoller the music.

If timing is everything in life, then these two gifted songwriters found themselves at the center of a sea change in pop music. Rockabilly, Doo Wop, Rhythm and Blues and hard-rocking gospel music were brought together, forming what would be that synergistic sound now known as Rock and Roll, a name coined in 1951 by Alan Freed, a D.J. from Cleveland, Ohio.

Suddenly teenagers, both black and white, were rockin' and a rollin', unable to sit still to music that seemed to come right up through the soles of their shoes, striking a chord in their hearts. And it was Stoller and Leiber who were writing the songs for black and white performers &

recall The Coasters, The Drifters, Ben E. King, Elvis Presley, LaVerne Baker &

that became instant hits and over the years memorable. Who can forget music such as "Loving You," "Charlie Brown," "Fools Fall in Love," "Kansas City," "Stand Me," "Jailhouse Rock," "I'm A Woman," "Poison Ivy," and so many more.

Every song is a small vignette about frustrated infatuation ("Searchin'"), an admonition ("Yakety Yak"), pure drama ("I, Who Have Nothing"), or heartbreaking drama ("Spanish Harlem"). "Smokey Joe's Cafe'" strings these songs together like a strand of pearls and makes each live again. And to the credit of director Jim Giancarlo, musical director Darcy Danielson, and choreographer Christopher George Patterson, knowing this music is closely identified with the artists who took the songs platinum, they avoid the trap of trying to replicate, say, Elvis Singing "Jailhouse Rock." Instead, all of the songs are given a fresh interpretation, creating a seamless blend of singing and dancing.

The cast &

Jessica Blaszak, Shelese Franklin, Bryn Harris, Christopher George Patterson, Dante Maurice Sterling, Marc Swan and Jamaal Clark-Turpin &

has not only an athletic ability to dance and swing and glide across the boards, but pipes that can belt out the higher ranges with conviction, or fall into soft, sweet harmony.

The band is composed of Darcy Danielson on keyboards, Jim Malachi doing drums and percussion and Michael Vannice, tenor sax, baritone sax and synthesizer.

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