I'm guessing that if you're younger than 40, you have little or no idea who Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are. However, I bet you know all their songs: "Kansas City," "Fools Fall In Love," "Poison Ivy," "On Broadway," "Yakety Yak," "Charlie Brown," "Hound Dog," "I'm A Woman," "Is That All There Is?," to name a few.
One could argue that Leiber and Stoller invented rock 'n' roll - or at the very least made it accessible to the masses. By the 1960s, they had become producers with their own record label, but on occasion they collaborated with Donald Fagan and Michael McDonald on songs.
Jerry Leiber passed away just last year at the age of 78, but Mike Stoller is still working, and recently wrote the song "Charlotte," which served as a theme at the Democratic National Convention this past summer. One of their interns in the early '60s was Phil Spector, who played the guitar solo for the Drifters' "On Broadway." Spector would go on to create his "wall of sound," and he attributed much of his success to working with Leiber and Stoller.
Coren Paschoal-Yamauchi (clockwise from top left), Trevor Natividad, Aly Cardinalli and Justin House will perform in “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” opening Friday at ProArts Playhouse in Kihei.
JACK GRACE photo
In 1995, the duo made a comeback of sorts with the hit Broadway and London productions of "Smokey Joe's Cafe," a revue of 40 of their hit songs from the '50s and '60s. Jonathan Lehman and ProArts of the Pacific will be presenting their take on the production this weekend and expectations will be high.
The show is described as "electric entertainment," and Lehman promises that "the show doesn't disappoint." The choice of this particular show for the holidays started with a call to former Maui resident, director/choreographer, Aly Cardinalli. I sat with Cardinalli last week to find out more about the production and he shared its beginnings with me.
"Jonathan called and asked if I would be interested in coming back to direct a musical over the holidays," said Cardinalli. "We threw a few titles around and decided on 'Smokey Joe's,' it is a show I have always loved because of its roots in rock 'n' roll. Jonathan gave me permission to tweak it with my own spin. He called it 'Aly magic.' "
Ironically, Cardinalli has relocated to Leiber's hometown of Baltimore. The entire production was cast by phone, voice memo and Skype.
"I went through four casts before it was set," she said. "Only one singer remained from my original plan. I was looking for types - singers between 22 and 33. First I needed to see if they could hack it vocally, and if they could, I wanted a youthful look. My vision is young love, trying to make it on your own and all the inevitable mistakes you have to make along the way. To me that is rock 'n' roll."
Cardinalli required the entire cast to have their songs down before the first rehearsal. By tomorrow's opening, they will have only had four weeks to put the entire show together.
"They had to learn forty songs and original choreography in one month. It breaks down to one song every two hours, and that's only if we never go back and revisit that one song," explained Cardinalli. "I'm flattered that Jonathan had the faith in me to put this on from afar. It is stressful, but luckily we have the happiest, goofiest bunch people in the cast. Everyone gets along so well, which makes it so enjoyable. They're a wonderful cast."
Much of that cast may be unknown to Maui, like Coren Paschoal-Yamauchi, a Baldwin student making his debut and Katerina B. Dominguez ("Cats"), previously thought of as a dancer.
"People have no idea what a strong singer she is - she's a Korean Christina Aguilera," Cardinalli joked about Dominquez.
Additional cast members include former Maui resident, Kate Comstock (last seen in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"), who returns from the Mainland to appear in "Smokey Joe's."
Cardinalli has also brought in some "Smokey Joe's" veterans, including Kim (keyboard) and Richard Vetterli (percussionist), from California. The couple has performed in several productions over the years.
"I was excited to walk into a new version of this show which has never been seen before," Kim Vetterli said.
One of the new elements added by Cardinalli is the choreography. Whereas previous productions have the band playing incidental music between songs, Cardinalli has created original chorography for all of those breaks. Cardinalli has also done some gender bending with the songs and made some changes in the arrangements. For example, you will hear Big Mama's Thornton's version of "Hound Dog," sung by Comstock, not Elvis.
Also joining Cardinalli's team will be Anne Durham as musical director, Caro Walker with scenic design, costume design by Marlu Kimball, and lighting design by Bonnie Prucha.
I asked Cardinalli if he had a favorite moment in the show.
"When all the girls do 'I'm A Woman,' " he said. "There is an ad-lib section which will be different every night - it's ear candy, so good it's sinful."
* ProArts opens "Smokey Joe's Cafe," Friday through Dec. 23, at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Directed and choreographed by Aly Cardinalli and starring Felicia Chernicki, Kate Comstock, Katerina B. Dominguez, Justin House, Julie Kawamura, Trevor Natividad, Coren Paschoal-Yamauchi and Cardinalli. Reserved seating tickets are $25 for adults, with $22.50 kama'aina discount nights (with valid Hawaii ID) on Dec. 8, 13 and 20. For reservations or more information, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartspacific.com.
Also this week
Don't miss the last weekend of Maui OnStage's "The Wizard of Oz," continuing through Sunday, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater. Reserved seating is available for $17 to $28. For tickets or more information, call 242-6969 or purchase online at www.mauionstage.com.
There are many shows over the holidays, but only one chance to catch MAPA's "Nutcracker Sweets," a delightful, family-friendly adaptation of the treasured holiday classic featuring 150 MAPA dancers and alumni. Whether you are introducing a child to the magic of this story for the first time or honoring an annual tradition of seeing the beloved ballet for the umpteenth time, stunning costumes and beautiful choreography set to the Tchaikovsky score will dazzle audiences of all ages.
"Nutcracker Sweets" plays at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the MACC's Castle Theater. Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for children (plus applicable facility fees). For reservations, call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org. For more information about MAPA, call 244-8760 or visit www.mauiacademy.org
Catch the annual Seabury Hall Christmas Party and Performing Arts Concerts this weekend with two nights to choose from. The
upper school band and chorus will perform with the level C and D dancers, under the direction of Stephen Haines, Richie Franco and David Ward, at 7 p.m. Friday. Highlights will include Amelia Nelson's "All That Jazz," and Vanessa Cerrito's "If it Ain't Baroque, Don't Fix It."
Enjoy the middle school band and chorus and the level A and B dancers, solo songs from Celina Belkins and Halia Haynes and a scene from Marsha Kelly's recent middle school production of "Alice and Wonderland" at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Both performances will be in the A'ali'ikuhonua Creative Arts Center at Seabury Hall in Makawao. Tickets are $12 adults, $10 seniors and $5 students. For reservations or more information call 573-1257 or buy online at www.seaburyhall.org.
Maui OnStage continues its free theater series, ONO! on Monday with "Frank Sinatra Night at the Iao," in celebration of the chairman of the board's 97th birthday. Join Maui OnStage as they honor Frank Sinatra's connection to Maui's National Historic landmark with an evening of song, sung by Jonna Ahn, Dylan Bode, Paul Janes Brown, Jerry Caires Jr, Steven Dascoulias, Alison Mikes Holmes, Lia Krieg, Kevin Lawrence, Casey Murphy, Francis Tau'a, and Robert E. Wills. The free ONO! performances are at the Historic Iao Theater, 6:30 p.m. every second Monday of the month.
Gabriel Iglesias returns to the Castle Theater on Thursday, Dec. 13 with "Aloha Fluffy 2012." Iglesias has been described as unbelievably witty, electrifying and a talented performer who consistently delivers a hilarious comedy experience. General admission is $41, plus applicable fees.
Rita Rudner returns to the MACC's McCoy Theater on Dec. 15. Voted "Best Comedian" by the Las Vegas Review-Journal for the past decade, Rudner has become one of the most beloved Las Vegas performers in the tradition of Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers and Don Rickles. Tickets are $35 and $65, plus applicable fees.
To purchase tickets for either show, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
KMA Productions and Bud Light present "A Comedy Story," at Maui Beach Hotel. Ring in the Holidays with some of Hawaii's top comics including Andy Bumatai, Paul Ogata and Jose Dynamite; hosted by Maui's Chino La Forge on Dec. 21. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door and may be purchased through Maui Beach Hotel. For reservations, call 877-0051.