Opening night of Halifax County Little Theatre’s revival of their most popular musical ever is fast approaching. “Smokey Joe’s Café,” directed by the team of Victoria and Bob Thomasson, set records for attendance 11 years ago, and people have continuously asked HCLT to bring this show back ever since.
Now the band is ready, the giant portraits are in place, and the cast is working hard to make this version even bigger than the original. “Smokey Joe’s Café” will be rockin’ the house with hits from Elvis, The Coasters, The Drifters, Jerry Lee Lewis and more April 25 through May 5.
The cast, who has been dancing, singing and laughing together for four months now, has much in common: they are all talented, they are all juggling busy lives, and they are all having the time of their lives. Whether veterans or first timers, all have put their hearts into this production.
As rookie performer Daniel Lloyd said, “I’ve attended and enjoyed HCLT shows in the past, but this is my first experience working in theatre. I know the many hours that our team poured into this show, and I know I’ll never watch another HCLT production again without a deep appreciation for the sacrifices those people have made for the show that I’m watching.
“I honestly feel like I’ve been adopted into a family,” he added. “I’m so grateful for the confidence that Vicky and this team placed in me and the encouragement I’ve received from everyone along this journey. I’ve gained some awesome friends for life. What greater reward could I ask for?”
LeVar Medley agreed with Lloyd, saying, “I was fortunate to be a member of the cast 11 years ago. That show I did for myself; this show I did for my daughter. I wanted her to get a taste of theater life and develop a love for it. Seeing her learn the songs and dances with me is so rewarding. The chemistry that this group has together makes the songs and dances come alive.”
Another veteran, Sharron Garrett, said, “I made my debut with SJC in 2008. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what to expect, but that unexpected was awesome. It was so fun and rewarding that I’ve gone on to perform in five other shows. I have wanted to do this show again since the ‘08 finale. This time around I’ve come in with eyes wide open, and it’s still awesome.”
One new face is Ike Penick, who said, “My favorite thing about the play is learning some of the choreography, which is definitely intricate and sophisticated. Dancers have spent a great deal of time perfecting their moves. It’s taught me how to be patient.”
Jessica Camp Snead agrees with Penick, saying, “Honestly, it is very rewarding to see our progress unfold. We started with hours upon hours of dance routines and vocals/harmonies - and now, we are running both acts in practice. Watching the pieces of the show come together and the process itself have both been very rewarding.”
Two things that the cast is grateful for are the friendships they have formed and the support they have felt during this sometimes overwhelming process.
This blessing is familiar to actor/singer/dancer Caleb Flowers, who has been involved with theater for many years.
Flowers said,” Every single person in this fantastic show is so loving and kind, and the rehearsals have been a great stress reliever.”
Mom of three Jessica Rose Hayes agreed. “I truly feel that we (the cast, band, dancers, stage managers, seamstresses, builders, artists, writers and everyone else) have stood by each other during this process. It makes me happy to know that all these people in our little community can contribute and give the gifts they were blessed with to make a show of this magnitude here in Halifax County, Virginia.”
Family support is essential to surviving months of working on a show. As Snead describes it, “Being a mom of three and having a rigorous practice schedule has been tough. But with the help of my awesome support system - my parents/family - they have really helped me managing my crazy schedule. My family is the reason I am able to be a part of such an awesome show.”
Tasha Dyer has a slightly different viewpoint, one that is shared by many families.
“Even though I knew what I was getting into when I committed, devoting myself to a project of this magnitude is exhausting to say the least. I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with some old friends from past shows and made a few new ones; however, the biggest reward for me is the opportunity to share the stage with my girls,” Dyer said.
Lionel Best Jr., who has been a vital part of the 6th N Main band for several years, explains why anyone would want to devote so much time being in a play: “I enjoy doing things like this. It is rewarding and fulfilling to be around an array of people and music.”
Victoria Majors is another lead singer familiar to HCLT audiences. She said, “Singing and performing have been a part of me my whole life. Doing theater allows me to tap into parts of me that I don’t get to ‘let out’ very often. I am a choir director at my church as well as a musician, so I mainly use my voice. Performing onstage allows me to use all of the gifts God has blessed me with.”
Mario Sadler is another performer who made his acting debut in the first version of “Smokey Joe’s Café.” As a teacher and soccer coach, he knows well how demanding this show has been but doesn’t regret for a minute his involvement.
Sadler said, “Victoria Thomasson has a magical way of bringing out the best in people. She takes raw talent and raw materials and transforms them into something really special.”
“Smokey Joe’s Café” opens Thursday, April 25, and runs for two weekends, with shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. both weekends, plus a Tuesday night performance on April 30 and a Saturday matinee on May 4 at 2 p.m. For tickets go to prizery.com or call The Prizery box office at 572-8339 during business hours.
For all evening performances, there will be a Smokey Joe’s cocktail hour from 6:30 to 7:30 in the lobby, including two signature drinks based on song titles. Proceeds will go toward purchasing a special projector The Prizery needs for their summer theatre season.