By Elliot Stephen Cohen
The stars came out big and bright and in full force Monday evening to honor composer Mike Stoller, half of the legendary Leiber/Stoller songwriting team, responsible for such classics as "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Kansas City," "Ruby Baby," and numerous others. (Leiber passed away in 2011.)
Paul Shaffer, David Letterman's long-time musical director, hosted the program which featured singers Ben E.King, Chuck Jackson, Bettye LaVette, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Melissa Manchester and Steve Tyrell.
Shaffer opened the program by recalling how the song "On Broadway" (co-written by Leiber/Stoller with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil) inspired him to leave Canada to pursue his dream of having a musical career in New York. (Of course, he's on Broadway five nights a week, where the Letterman show is taped.)
Some of the evening's many highlights included a Coasters tribute group (the original members have sadly passed away) which delighted the crowd three times with rousing versions of "Yakety-Yak," "Charlie Brown," and "Poison Ivy," all of which included some pretty spiffy choreography.
Veteran actress Sally Kellerman provided two of the show's highpoints: sultry renditions of "Love Potion Number # 9," and "Is That All There Is?"
Singers Brenda Braxton, Mary Bridget Davies, Karen Ackers, and Maria Elena Infantino were excellent, as was Tommy Tune in his one all too brief song-and-dance number.
Relative newcomer John Arthur Greene brought down the house with an explosive performance of Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock."
Stoller's wife Corky Hale related how she had never heard of her husband when they first met in 1966, before performing "Loving You" which Leiber and Stoller composed for Elvis' second movie in 1957.
Of course Ben E. King sang his classic "Stand By Me," which he co-wrote with L&S.
Mike Stoller, the man of the evening, came onstage at the end to thank everyone, while sheepishly admitting that his actual birthday was in March.
It's really a shame that the event was not filmed for future generations to see. This would have made a terrific PBS special.