When it came to popular music in the 1950s, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were among the most successful writers around.
The duo scored 70 chart hits in their long career but were prolific in the ’50s when they wrote or co-wrote hits for the Coasters, Elvis Presley, the Drifters, Ben E. King and Big Mama Thornton, among others. “Jailhouse Rock”? “Charlie Brown”? “On Broadway”? “Stand By Me”? All written or co-written by Lieber and Stoller.
They even wrote a song titled “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” which incidentally is not featured in the musical revue of Lieber and Stoller hits that premiered on Broadway in 1995. That’s OK, because there is plenty of toe-tapping to be found in this breezy show now running at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre.
“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is a jukebox musical in the truest sense of the word. There’s no narrative. It’s just songs. The cast – five men and four women – meet up at Smokey Joe’s Cafe and begin a journey though the Lieber and Stoller catalog.
The cast features Amy D’Orazi, Emily Cleveland, Jennifer Kleinkauf, Josian Brett, C.J. Lorentz, Anden Leo, David Eldridge, Matthew Boyd and Jackson Bouchard.
(In my notes, I referred to Bouchard as Deep Voice Man. When you hear him sing the “don’t talk back” line in “Yakety Yak,” you’ll understand why.)
It’s a show designed to highlight talented singers, and the CST cast is no exception. They appear together in various permutations – solos, duos, quartets and the whole ensemble – backed by a live band on stage.
Overall, they all sounded great. D’Orazi is a familiar presence on Coeur d’Alene stages, with roles in “She Loves Me” and “Falsettos” at Lake City Playhouse” and in “Beauty and the Beast” earlier this season at CST. She nailed “Pearl’s a Singer” and was a standout in “Kansas City.”
Eldridge stood out with “Loving You” and “Treat Me Nice,” while Boyd showed he had the Elvis-styled moves with “Jailhouse Rock.”
One of the oddities of Act I was “Shoppin’ for Clothes,” a tune recorded by the Coasters that literally is about a guy who wants to buy a nice suit. Leo did a great job leading the ensemble in this 1960 novelty song, and it was well choreographed and funny.
Why such a song was ever written is a question we’ll save for another day.
There were a few opening night stumbles, but as Act I ended the ensemble really gelled on a strong note, with a knockout version of “Saved” led by Brett and the rest of the ensemble. It was an energetic performance by all involved.
One of the strongest dancers in the company, Brett also was a blast to watch in “Teach Me How to Shimmy” and turned in a blistering version of “Hound Dog,” the arrangement originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton.
Act II is loaded with iconic songs, from the novelty hits “Charlie Brown,” “Yakety Yak” and “Little Egypt” to the Presley tunes “Treat Me Nice” and “Jailhouse Rock,” and beloved classics such as “Love Potion No. 9” and “Spanish Harlem.”
The night comes to a glorious end with a heartfelt and rousing version of “Stand By Me,” a song Lieber and Stoller wrote with King. Leo takes the lead as the ensemble joins in one by one.
It makes for a lovely end to a night of terrific music.
The story has been updated to correctly reflect Amy D’Orazi’s previous stage credits.
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