In the 18 years since Julius Thomas III left Wichita State University with his degree in Musical Theater, the young man originally from Gary, IN – has experienced a lot, performed a lot, seen the world, and grown into a seasoned male lead able to capture audiences with his performances in leading roles like his latest gig, the starring role in a national touring company of “Hamilton.”
Yes, he’s been Alexander Hamilton, and even Barry Gordy, in the touring company of “Motown,” but he’s never forgotten Wichita and Wichita’s Mu-sic Theater, where he got his start. So as his first live role since closing down Hamilton at the start of the pandemic, he chose to return to his musical theater roots to entertain the local fans as the lead in “Smokey Joe’s Café – In Concert” the, the inaugural production of Music Theater’s 50th anniversary season.
“Smoky Joe’s Café – In Concert” pays tribute to some of the greatest Black recording artists of the 1950s and ’60s. This tune-filled blast from the past plays April 28 – May 2 at the Capitol Federal Amphitheater in Ando-ver and it features nine of the brightest young singers currently working on stage and in the recording studios. In addition to Thomas, the audience will enjoy performances by talented per-formers from such Broadway shows as “Hamilton,” “Motown,” “The Scottsboro Boys,” “Sister Act,” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
The list of talented performers includes Erin Elizabeth Clemons from the Broadway and national companies of Hamilton. Other artists include Isaiah Bailey, Edwin Bates, Tristen Buettel, Allamiece Carolyn Gooper, Robert H. Fowler, Susan O’Dea, and Ernie Pruneda.
Smokey Joe’s Café, a fast-moving concert, features songs written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who created hit tunes for some of the greatest recording artists of the era. After writing for blues artists like Jimmy Witherspoon and Little Esther, Leiber and Stoller had a substantial
R&B hit with Charles Brown’s 1951 recording of “Hard Times.*
Their big break came when R&B songwriter and promoter Johnny Otis invited them to try writing a song for one of his clients, “Big Mama” Thorn-ton, who badly needed a hit. In 15 minutes they wrote the classic “Hound Dog,” and her 1952 recording made a strong impression on the R&B charts.
Other great songs followed, including “Searchin’,” “Young Blood,”
*Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown,” and “Poison Ivy,” for new artists like the Coasters. “Kansas City” was created for Wilbert Harri-son, and “Love Potion #9” for The Clovers. For Ben E. King they wrote “There Goes My Baby,” “Stand By Me,” and “Spanish Harlem, and “On Broadway” became a hit for both George Benson and the Drifters.
Thirty-five of these classic rock’n’roIl tunes will be featured in six outdoor concerts in Andover. All evening performances begin at 8 p.m. and the Sunday matinee begins at 2 p.m. One hour before each show, a guest performer will entertain, including (on different nights) Roy Moye III, lnjoy Fountain, and Emily Orr.
“Music theater of Wichita gave me my first job as a theater performer and now they’re giving me my first job as an assistant director,” said Thomas. “They fostered me and set me up for