BEMIDJI-If you're a lover of pop music from the 1950s and '60s, the opening show of the 2019 Paul Bunyan Playhouse season is right in your lane.

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" opens at 7:30 tonight and runs through June 15 at the Historic Chief Theater. It's all songs-38 of them-and features nine cast members and a four-piece band. They'll perform songs like "Hound Dog," "On Broadway" and "Jailhouse Rock" in when artistic director Jim Williams calls a jukebox musical.

"I think the appeal for audience members when they come to see it is, whether they realize it or not, they recognize these songs," said Williams, who is in his fourth season as artistic director of the summer stock company. "It's nothing but music, all the way through. The only difference is the arrangements of some of the songs when they were compiling this were changed. 'Hound Dog' is jazzier and slower" than the Elvis Presley version.

The band is made up of all local talent, led by musical director Dan Will on keyboards, with Greg Gaston on percussion, Dan Nelson on guitar and Lee Warne on bass. Because it's an all-music revue, the band is on center stage. "They're as much a part of the show as the cast members," Williams said.

Heather Williams-Williams, company manager for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, said she has been impressed with Bemidji's homegrown musical talent during her four years here.

"It's never a worry," she said, "because trying to find leadership positions is a challenge sometimes, but Dan (Will) is great and he gets the band going for us. It's something we don't have to stress about."

Heather was a cast member six years ago when the Frostfire Summer Theater in Walhalla, N.D., performed "Smokey Joe's Cafe."

"The show just has really close harmonies and it's very fun to sing," she said. "I listened to that music when I was a child, so I grew up hearing all of the songs. I'm not sure a lot of the (Paul Bunyan Playhouse) cast members were familiar with the music when they got here. They're quite a bit younger than me, but they're learning it." One of the cast members is Bemidji State University graduate Joshua Sorenson.

The play was written by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. After a Los Angeles tryout, the revue opened on Broadway in 1995, running for 2,036 performances, making it the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history. The original Broadway cast recording won a Grammy award in 1997.

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse performances of "Smokey Joe's Cafe" are today and Saturday at 7:30 with a Sunday, June 9, matinee at 2 p.m. The show also will have a 2 p.m. matinee, Wednesday, June 12, as well as 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (218) 751-7270 or online at General admission is $25, matinee $20, student $15 and flex books are still available for $115.

"Deathtrap" will be on stage next, June 21-29, followed by "Little Shop of Horrors," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Footloose."

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" is underwritten by Forestedge Winery.

If you go:

What: “Smokey Joe's Cafe,” premiere show of Paul Bunyan Playhouse’s 68th season.

Where: Chief Theater, 314 Beltrami Ave., downtown Bemidji.

When: Today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 12; 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday-Saturday next week.

Tickets: General admission is $25, matinee $20, student $15 and flex books are still available for $115; (218) (218) 751-7270 or online at

Up next: “Deathtrap,” June 22-30.