by Bob Evans
Sit yourself down and listen up, “Smoke of the Mountain” brings a healthy dose of American Gospel music, talented singers (but no dancers), fun performances, and the singular message that even the best plans of Rev. Oglethorpe can sometimes go awry.
The Sanders family has not performed for awhile, but Rev. Oglethorpe happens upon them and invites them to come to sing at his Southern Baptist for a special treat for his flock. Little does he know that upon their arrival, all control over his service passes directly from his hands to the over-anxious quintet of Sanders. Each and every one with a story to tell, a wetness to deliver and several songs to help them.
“Smoke on the Mountain” gives genuine joy and fun to the audience. This reviewer found it reminiscent of the Grand Old Opry TV show he watched with his grandmother every afternoon of summer vacation (and I’m old now). June Carter was fresh and young at the time. This show captures that flavor, mixes in the background of a preacher who just cannot quell the effervescent spirit of the verse-spouting Sanders family. The show is a hoot. The performers are well-entrenched in their characters. The result is a two hour show that leaves the audience full of country Gospel standards.
The story takes place in North Carolina in the late 1930 and features a long list of bluegrass/gospel music. Some of the songs include: “I’ll Fly Away,” “The Church in the Wildwood,” “Built on the Rock,” “Wonderful Time Up There,” “No Tears in Heaven,” “I’ll Never Die,” “Jesus Is Mine,” “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now,” “Angel Band,”
“Bringing in the Sheaves,” “Smoke on the Mountain,” and “When the Roll is called up Yonder,” are just some of the songs included.
For the audience’s enjoyment, some sign language accompanies the music in the form of June Sanders, when she’s not busy adding home-spun accompaniment to the on-stage band. Suffice it to say June’s sign language does not quite fit the standard of American sign language, but you will get the message, thanks to Shelly Stewart’s carefully crafted signing.
As Pastor Oglethorpe, Ken Remmert abandoned his drumsticks, steps into a character, and later displays his accordion expertise for a number. Remmert is funny as the rubber-faced preacher who can not control the Sanders family, once their train starts moving. And, oh, my how it moves. At one point the girls break into what could be considered dancing in church to the anger of the “amen corner.” Poor Rev. Oglethorpe must deal with that outburst and calm the parishioners. Remmert is funny in this role.
As the twins, Mindy Moritz and Chris Owen carefully point out which one is the boy and which one is the girl. They have their own testimonies to help move the story along. The boy wants to be a preacher and the girl expresses her hope to be discovered and portray Scarlett O’Hara in the upcoming movie of Gone with the Wind.
Leading the charge of the Sanders family are the parents, Vera and Burl Sanders, portrayed by Vicky DeLaughder and Chris Gleeson. Plan to get you reminders of Biblical scripture from them They can quote text with the best of them. Their stories, scripture quotes, characterizations, and vocal performances reign as top notch and funny. Both are very comfortable in their parts.
As the member who strayed from the flock, Uncle Stanley comes to life in the form of Kevin in Albert. Stanley remains in the background for much of the show, but when his time comes for his testimonial and vocals, he commands the stage in a tender and somber way and draws the a audience into a quiet and peaceful mood. His vocals are strong as is his performance.
For the accompaniment, director and producer Brad Zimmerman added Jonathan Schriock and Lenora Remmert to his customary piano lead and created a combo that keeps the music light and moving throughout the show. For a pre-show treat, the combo performed about a 10 minute medley of songs standard to the 1930s. They were fun, recognizable, and light. The music set the tone for the show to follow.
For a family-friendly evening of local theater, do not miss “Smoke of the Mountain” at the Chestnut Fine Arts Center in Olathe, Kansas. The show runs about two hours and old time Gospel music fills the air. The characters are fun. The show is light, but still contains a meaning without going dark at any point. “Smoke on the Mountain” is one of three musicals about the Sanders family that make the rounds at smaller venues and dinner theaters nation-wide. The Chestnut’s version guarantees laughs and a good time–even for those who sit in the “amen-corner” of their local churches. The show offends no one and leaves the audiences with a happy heart and a smile on their faces.
“Smoke on the Mountain” runs through March 5 at the Chestnut Fine Arts Center in Olathe, Kansas. Tickets can be purchased by phone or via the Chestnut website.