The Sanders Family, who are the subjects of three of the most-performed gospel-musical shows in the United States for the past 20 years, were conceived by Alan Bailey; and the three scripts were written by Connie Ray. Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming (2006), now playing at Temple Theatre in Sanford, is the third of those scripts; and it features musical arrangements by Mike Craver.
Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming takes place in October 1945, shortly after the end of WWII, when the ever-famous gospel-singing Sanders Family holds a farewell concert for the minister of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, as he departs with his pregnant wife for a calling in Texas, and is replaced by a member of The Sanders Family.
The other two plays — Smoke on the Mountain (1991) and Sanders Family Christmas (1999) — have also been produced at the Temple Theatre. In fact, six of the actor/singers in this production were familiar to us from those performances; and one of them, Greta Marie Zandstra, has cavorted delightfully in all three shows.
The musical director of the show is Sean Powell, who also plays Dennis, the twin brother (he’s the boy) who went off to fight in the Marines. Powell sparkles in this role, which he also performed in the last production; and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church will be fortunate to have such an animated preacher coming to them.
Set and lighting designer Steven Harrington has built a fine old-time-religion place of worship, replete with an Amen Corner.
Greta Zandstra brings her usual high energy, melodramatic “signing” to her role of June Oglethorpe (nee Sanders) and uses her nine-month-pregnant-belly prop adroitly and with a studiously undignified cheeriness. She keeps the audience howling with laughter.
Burl Sanders, the big daddy of the Sanders clan, is reprised by Richard Daniel, commanding the flow of the story and hosting with propriety and devotion. His deep voice still echoes as we prepare this review.
Pam Pendleton plays Vera Sanders, the matriarch of the family who can Bible-quote with the best of them. Pendleton gives Vera a peppy, lovable personality — in fact, she makes the character a gas!
Stanley Sanders, Burl’s brother, a guy with a bit of a checkered past, is sung for us by Kaine Riggan in a gentle voice as smooth as molasses. Riggan finds the nuances of his character’s complicated life, giving us the impression of one who is remorseful, but a better man for his formerly wicked ways.
Miles Snow moves nicely from affable preacher to rip-snorting, rootin’ tootin’ bronco buster, as Reverend Oglethorpe; and he loves to tell the story with good ole gospel songs.
Denise Sanders (she’s the girl twin) is played and sung by Jessika Brust, bringing an operatically trained voice and skill at fiddle to the mélange.
An important source of wonderment, as this fine show entertains us, is the multiple talents that these artists bring to their roles. Each cast member plays a variety of instruments, which include fiddle, bass fiddle, piano, mandolin, guitar, zither, tambourine, and several exotic rhythm devices; and they all dance and sing with gusto.
SECOND OPINION: April 27th Sanford, NC Sanford Herald preview by Shawn Taylor: http://www.sanfordherald.com/news/mountain-finale-ends-temple-season/article_4b03ef12-0c84-11e6-a4d7-7fdefeaf658d.html (Note: You must subscribe to read this article).
Temple Theatre presents SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN: HOMECOMING at 2 p.m. May 5, 2 and 8 p.m. May 6, 8 p.m. May 7, 2 p.m. May 8, 2 p.m. May 12, 2 and 8 p.m. May 13, 8 p.m. May 14, and 2 p.m. May 15 at 120 Carthage St., Sanford, North Carolina 27330.
TICKETS: $25 ($14 students and $21 Lee County teacher and educators and active-duty military personnel), except $21 per ticket for groups of 10 or more.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-774-4155, email@example.com, or http://www.templeshows.com/ticketinfo/grouppackagesandsales.php.
2015-16 MAIN STAGE SEASON: http://www.templeshows.com/showsandevents/fullseason15-16.php.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.templeshows.com/, https://www.facebook.com/TheTempleTheatre, and https://twitter.com/TempleTheatreNC, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Theatre_%28Sanford,_North_Carolina%29.
Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming (2006 musical): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2185/smoke-on-the-mountain-homecoming (Samuel French Inc.).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Connie Ray (Chapel Hill, NC-born New York City playwright): http://www.samuelfrench.com/author/1969/connie-ray (Samuel French Inc. bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0712790/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/connie.ray.967 (Facebook page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connie_Ray (Wikipedia).
Peggy Taphorn (Temple Theatre artistic director and director and choreographer of this show): http://www.templeshows.com/about/templestaff.php (Temple Theatre bio) and https://www.facebook.com/peggy.taphorn.7 (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.