BWW Review: SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN Brings Spiritual Laughs to SOUTH CITY THEATRE With an Old Timey Family Roadshow
As summer comes to a close, the time for family gathering is welcomed. Come brothers and sisters and rejoice. For the time of laughter and fellowship is provided by South City Theatre's hilarious offering of the bluegrass-gospel comedy musical "Smoke on the Mountain." This charming and nostalgic show takes you back to 1938. The play stars the fictional Sanders Family. They are a Christian traveling family roadshow bringing uplifting songs of faith; one church at a time. Each character is comedic country gold. The format bounces from playing music, to hilarious banter, and heartfelt testimonials from each of the six family members. Monologues are rich in content that give an individual look at missteps in their life, and how faith, and family steered them to resolve. "Smoke on the Mountain" is made up of a light plot, brushed with hints to the trials and tribulations that we all have. A notable highlight of the show is the chemistry, familiarity and warmth of the cast. It is a fun show with many memorable moments of laughing and jubilation.
This "old timey" roadshow is buttered up with comedic, characters, and surprises. The songs are right out of Me-Maw's old hymnal. Musical director Emily Hoppe brings music that is played to perfection with instruments that take you back to an Appalachian style revival; Fiddle, upright bass, washboard, harmonica, piano, banjo, dulcimer, and mandolin. The themed 1930's, folksy costumes accentuate the characters presence greatly. They look like they just stepped off the photos of granddad riding in his old Packard.
Director Sue Ellen Gerrells was blown by "Smoke on the Mountain" when she first saw it on stage in the 1980's. "I have had this show on my bucket list for years. This show is a lot of work. But it's worth it. I love the show. It's so practical. We can stage this without a set. We can take it from church to church. I've never seen it done like this before I've always seen it in a theater. Don't get me wrong. It's a great show no matter where you do it. There's something different about performing "Smoke on the Mountain" in the sanctuary of a real church. It feels more genuine. Gerrells direction captures the format and spirit of a traveling ministry show. The wonderful charm and atmosphere on performing in an actual sanctuary plays really well.
Actor Michael Wilbanks plays excitable Pastor Ogelthorpe. He feels blessed to be in such a talented cast. "We really strive to touch something in peoples hearts. Although a character may have hardship or feel like they don't have a voice. At the end of the play your realize we're all gonna be all right. You walk out feeling good, and feeling about yourself."
Actor Ryan Gerrells plays the meek Dennis. He grew up in a Baptist family and finds this show very familiar. "There is something very nostalgic about this kind of gospel music. Because I have been hearing it all my life. I think it's kind of in my blood at this point." Gerrells commitment to the show is impressive. He taught himself how to play the banjo for the role. The comedy in the show is something that caught his eye. "There are to be completely honest. There are a lot of parts that are funny that we didn't know were funny until people in the audience started laughing."
Autumn LaShay Brown gives life to the spry daughter June. She has had this show on her bucket list for many years as well. When she heard South City Theatre was putting it up she was ecstatic. She brings heavy physical comedy into the role of the sign language interpreter for the family show. She finds the role a joy to perform. "I'm not gonna lie it is tiring!. (Laughs) But is also a lot of fun. It's hard getting all the sign language down. Because a lot of it is not true ASL. Those parts are what the character would try to do to convey worlds to the audience. I worked on this for a while. I have a friend that is actually deaf who worked with me. This was a wonderful experience for me to bond with the deaf community." The life of this Christian family touring road show is something Brown can fully relate to. "I am a Christian, and I grew up with in this exact type of family. My dad is a preacher, and my mom a Sunday school teacher. I got baptized in the creek. This show is my childhood. (Laughs) I sang southern gospel music, and toured all over the southeast. I connect to the show very much."
Actress Charlotte Schorle delivers a beautiful heavenly voice to the role of Denise. She found learning and singing the 30+ hymns in the show to be a fun challenge. "It kind of overwhelmed me at the beginning. I didn't know any of these songs. I just kept listening to the songs in the car. The music is so fun, enjoyable, and beautiful. I fell in love with it while focusing on the character. Now, this music is almost second nature. The music is like comfort food in that sense. It makes you happy." The spirit in the music, and the family resonated with Schorle's sense of comfort. "This family is so tightly kneaded together. Each is such a strong individual in different areas of life that we get to explore throughout the show. They come together in forgiving each other for trespasses, and other things. The way they are supportive of each other is very beautiful."
With wonderful songs and characters. "Smoke on the Mountain" is a entertaining and uplifting show. The performance is touring from church to church for just a few weeks. Even if you are not a religious person, you will find this show to be fun and delightful in character work and music.
Smoke on the Mountain
Directed by Sue Ellen Gerrells
Musical direction by Emily Hoppe
Starring: Michael Wilbanks, Autumn LaShay Brown, Robin Rushing, James Billings, Clint Neville, Peter DiToro, Charlotte Schorle, Amy Self- all accompanied on piano by Jeremey McMillan.
Tickets at $16 general admission or $13 seniors (over 60) and students (under 18)
Tickets or info: Click HERE or call (205) 936-9162
Aug 16 and 17 @ 7:30pm
Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, 858 Kent Dairy Rd (Hwy 26), Alabaster, AL 35007
Aug 23 and 24 @ 7:30pm
Crosscreek Baptist Church, 600 Crosscreek Trail, Pelham, AL 35124
Sept 19 and 20th @7:30pm / Sept 21 2pm.
Vestavia Hill's United Methodist Church, 2061 Kentucky Ave, Vestavia Hills, AL 35216