Reviewed by Judy Richter
No overview of popular music of the '50s and '60s is complete without the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the team whose tunes were made famous by the likes of Elvis Presley, the Coasters, the Drifters and others. "Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller" showcases more than three dozen of the prolific team's greatest hits. Presented by American Musical Theatre of San Jose, the 1995 Broadway hit is a plotless yet seamless revue performed by a strong ensemble cast of five men and four women.
As directed by Bill Castellino and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, each song tells a story, whether humorous, dramatic, poignant, sexy or just plain rollicking. Musical director David Nehls on keyboards presides over the six-person, onstage orchestra and makes sure that the singers blend well, starting with the opening "Neighborhood." The hits then keep on coming: "Charlie Brown," "Yakety Yak," "Dance With Me," "Kansas City," "Fools Fall in Love," "Poison Ivy," "Spanish Harlem" (by Leiber and Phil Spector) and "On Broadway" -- and that's just a sampling from the first act. The second act follows with "Pearl's a Singer," "Hound Dog," "Little Egypt," "I'm a Woman," "There Goes My Baby," "Love Potion #9," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Stand by Me," among others.
The versatile performers are Dana Dawson, Gayle Holsman, James Monroe Iglehart, Delious T. Kennedy, Jeff Leibow, Leonard E. Sullivan, Denise Summerford, Gayle Turner and Erwin G. Urbi. Iglehart's stong bass voice and Sullivan's expressive face, body and dancing are especially noteworthy. The set by Tom Sturge, lighting by Derek Duarte, costumes by Marina Agabekov and sound by Hage Van Dijk complete the enjoyment of this upbeat trip through rock history.