Melinda Doolittle Leads Cast of Studio Tenn's Season-Opening SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE

August 22
12:12 PM 2012


Nashville's own American Idol finalist-and Belmont Unviersity almuna-Melinda Doolittle leads a cast of powerhouse vocalists in Smokey Joe's Café, Studio Tenn's first musical production of its 2012-2013 season, opening September 20 at the historic Franklin Theatre. 

"I could not be more excited to be a part of Studio Tenn's Smokey Joe's Café with such an amazing cast from all over the country," says Doolittle, who was launched to worldwide fame as a season six contestant of American Idol. "Studio Tenn is best known in this region for putting on flawless and exciting professional theater, and this show in particular has the musical and historical significance to further that trend."
A Grammy Award-winning rock-and-roll revue, Smokey Joe's Café celebrates songwriters Leiber and Stoller's beloved catalog of classics from the 1950s and '60s, including hits made famous by Elvis Presley, Peggy Lee, Tom Jones, Bobby Darin and more.

Starring with Doolittle in Studio Tenn's production are husband and wife pop duo Abner and Amanda Ramirez, known together as JOHNNYSWIM. Amanda is the daughter of the late great first lady of disco, Donna Summer. While the duo is based in Los Angeles, they have roots in Nashville.
Melinda Doolittle Leads Cast of Studio Tenn's Season-Opening SMOKEY JOE'S CAFEThe cast also includes Libby Hodges, Ryan Greenawalt and Laura Matula (whom Studio Tenn fans will recognize for her performance as Miss Adelaide in last year's Guys and Dolls). Joining Nashville's finest are Kansas City's Harvey Hubert and Birmingham's John-Mark McGaha.
"This cast of singers is, in a word, 'unreal,'" says Studio Tenn managing director Jake Speck. "I know this may sound blasphemous, but vocally, this cast blows the original Broadway cast out of the water. These are eight of the best singers I've ever heard-period. We are just beside ourselves to have landed such an extraordinary concentration of vocal talent for this show."

Speck describes Smokey Joe's Café as "a nonstop avalanche" of 39 rock and roll and R&B standards, including "Jailhouse Rock," "Hound Dog," "Stand By Me," "Kansas City," "I'm a Woman," and many more.
"Our concept and take on the show is to strip away a lot of the Broadway and Vegas feel of it and focus more on the unbelievable Leiber and Stoller music catalog," explains Speck. "For inspiration, we went back to the original recordings of all these great songs. We are taking the show back to its roots."
Braodway veteran Speck is executive producer for Smokey Joe's Café, with Studio Tenn's artistic director Matt Logan as director and designer. Joining them are choreographer Emily Tello and musical director and conductor Steve Kummer.

Tickets for Smokey Joe's Café are available now at or at the Box Office at (615) 538-2076. Season tickets are also still available for a limited time. Season Ticket holders receive a 20% discount on admission to each of the five shows in Studio Tenn's expanded 2012-2013 season: Smokey Joe's Café, Twelve Angry Men (staged at the historic Williamson County Courthouse), A Christmas Carol, Big River and My Fair Lady. For more information, visit



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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors - the history of which can be traced to 1989 and the first presentation of The First Night Awards - which honor outstanding theater artisans from Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and also includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors recognition. Midwinter's First Night honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. An accomplished director, Ellis helmed productions of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, all in their Nashville premieres, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show. Ellis was recognized by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror. In 2015, he directed William Inge's Picnic for Circle Players and Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years for VWA Theatricals, with The Larry Keeton Theatre's production of Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest set for spring 2016.

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