Smokey Joe’s Cafe, which holds the record as Broadway’s longest running musical revue, has returned to NYC in a reimagined production directed and choreographed by Tony Nominee and Emmy Winner Joshua Bergasse (On the Town, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, “So You Think You Can Dance”). It features the music of the legendary songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote for some of rock and roll’s greatest acts and whose catalog includes classic and iconic songs like “On Broadway,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Stand by Me.” Following an out of town run at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, the show opened to rave reviews at Stage 42 right in the heart of Times Square. Much of the praise for this new production of the show has been centered on the nine uniquely gifted performers who power through the show’s 40 musical numbers.
Max Sangerman, whose prior credits include Blue Man Group, The Lightning Thief, and The Buddy Holly Story, is one of the standout cast members. With a powerful voice and virtuoso guitar playing skills, his signature song in the show, “Ruby Baby,” is a rousing musical number with a historic pedigree, having been previously recorded by The Drifters, Elvis Presley, and The Beach Boys. Max spoke to Culturadar about his experience with Smokey Joe’s Cafe and his musical influences.
Culturadar: Who was your biggest musical influence growing up?
Max Sangerman: I had a lot of musical influences growing up but a few that really made an impact are:
Van Morrison - because my mom would play his record “Moondance” almost every day when she drove my sister and I to school.
Elvis Presley - because the King was my dad’s biggest influence and he passed on his music to me. My dad, Mike, is a DJ and still an Elvis tribute artist.
My Dad - he’s an encyclopedia of music knowledge and he showed me everything under the sun. He’s also a stellar singer and guitar player. He taught me everything I know.
CR: Tell us something we wouldn’t know about you from just reading your bio.
MS: I’m always in search of the best breakfast sandwich New York delis have to offer.
CR: Were you familiar with the music of Leiber and Stoller growing up? If so, how would you say it has impacted you as a musician?
MS: I was! My dad introduced me to their music. I never really knew who Mike and Jerry were, but I grew up knowing their music. From “Jailhouse Rock” to “Hound Dog” to “Stand by Me,” I was always surrounded with their music growing up, and it influenced the way I would listen to music and what to look for in songs I liked leading to now as I write my own music.
CR: Do you have a favorite song that you perform in Smokey Joe’s Cafe?
MS: “Ruby Baby.” It’s straight up, gritty, true rock and roll.
CR: Were you already an accomplished guitar player when you auditioned for Smokey Joe’s Cafe or did you learn after you were cast?
MS: I have been playing guitar for a little while - nothing crazy- but since joining Smokey Joe’s, my technique, timing, and overall musicality has really improved.
CR: Gibson Guitars are some of the most historic and collectible instruments of the past century - how does it feel to play such an iconic instrument during your performance?
MS: It’s insanely cool. Les Paul, Jimmy Page, Slash (to name a few) all have shaped the landscape of rock and roll music over the years - all playing on Gibsons. Gibson guitars are staples. When you think rock, you think Gibson. It’s a privilege to get to play one every night.
CR: What has been your favorite memory so far in being in this reimagined production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe?
MS: I make new memories every day at the “Cafe” but one that I won’t forget was sitting around a fire pit as a cast up in Maine, singing, kicking back and getting to know one another. We’re a family now and it’s fueled with love, support, and an obsession with this music.
Smokey Joe’s Cafe runs at Stage 42 (422 West 42nd Street, NYC). For tickets and information, visit www.smokeyjoescafemusical.com.
Production photo by Joan Marcus.