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SULLIVAN — The music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller is often heard in homes on radio and television still today, nearly 60 years after they were first heard on the radio.

Their songs, performed by various artists, include “On Broadway,” “Love Potion Number Nine,” “Hound Dog” and “Stand By Me.”

It is this music that created the Broadway jukebox revue “Smokey Joe's Cafe” in 1994. The cast of Little Theatre-On the Square will present the Tony-nominated musical as part of their summer season. The show will run July 5 through 16.

More than 35 songs make up the jukebox musical.

“You will probably recognize them all,” Little Theatre Executive Director John Stephens said. “It is the songs you would hear on the jukebox back in the day, in the '50s and '60s.”

Leiber and Stoller wrote several top 40 hits during their career. Their songs were recorded by popular musical acts at the time, including The Drifters, The Coasters and Elvis Presley.

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Nich O'Neil and Audrey Crocker learn some dance moves at the Little Theatre-On the Square rehearsal studio in Sullivan for a rehearsal for "Smokey Joe's Cafe." 

The duo created music for groups as well as solo acts.

“That's what is portrayed in the show,” Stephens said. “It has a lot of small group numbers.”

Stephens said the cast acts out each song as a vignette.

“They tell a little story within the song,” he said. “It's just bringing the song to life.”

The musical opened on Broadway in 1995. The cast creates a musical theater situation centered around the classic songs. “Smokey Joe's Cafe” is set in a basement club with a modern-day set and costumes.

In the first act, the actors prepare a show together. The second act is the show.

The Little Theatre board wanted to do this musical because the iconic songs would be familiar to their audience.

“That is the genre that a lot of our patrons grew up in,” Stephens said. “They will feel comfortable hearing the music and being part of it.”

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Sarah Phlisbaum and Bryon Glenn Willis sing 'When the Night Grows Cold.'

The cast expects to see people singing and clapping along.

“They will feel more a part of the show,” Stephens said.

The original Broadway show was written for nine cast members. Little Theatre directors expanded the lineup to 14 to make the show their own.

“Why not use the cast that will be here all season?” Stephens said.

Although the musical has no dialogue other than the lyrics of the songs, the show provides the energy typical of Little Theatre productions with professional singing and dancing. The summer cast hopes the show is an opportunity for the audience to get to know them and their talents.

Actress Sarah Philabaum found “Smokey Joe's Cafe” is ideal to showcase their skills.

“You get see people more as themselves instead of as characters,” she said.

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From left to right, actors Bernell Lassi, Luke Rose, Todd Aulwurm and Evan Duff work through a dance sequence,

The musical does not have a lead character. Instead, everyone has their own feature songs. Philabaum, 30, has a few feature numbers. In other songs, she is a guest at the nightclub.

The 2017 season is the second year for actress. She said the “Smokey Joe's Cafe” has a sense of community and reflects their relationships with each other.

“We have a lot of good connections,” she said. “This show is us relating to each other through the songs.”


Staff Writer

“Together Decatur” columnist, food and entertainment reporter for the Herald & Review.

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