“Smoke on the Mountain” just opened at Beef & Boards Dinner Theater. It is the story of the Singing Sanders Family as they perform at a Saturday night bluegrass gospel sing after a five-year hiatus. The time is 1938 and the place is the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the Great Smoky Mountains.
I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to this musical, given I really am not a fan of bluegrass music. What a pleasant surprise it was to genuinely be happy to have experienced this thoroughly entertaining evening. The seven-member cast did a bang-up job. In addition to playing all kinds of instruments and singing up a storm, the players took turns “witnessing” to the audience/congregation. This wasn’t your standard Sunday morning, milquetoast kind of witnessing, but had more of a mild Jerry Springer quality.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the evening for me was watching Sarah Hund as June Sanders. I have to tell you, I think I have a girl crush on her. She managed to pull off quirky, gawky and loveable, all while performing the entire percussion section. The things that woman can do with a jar of beans and a tambourine while pretending to have no rhythm made my night.
Hund also performs many of the musical numbers using a mixture of actual and made-up sign language. Let me point out that the tempo of gospel music doesn’t lend itself very well to sign language, and the results were hilarious.
Pam Pendleton delighted as the mother of the Sanders clan, Vera. She had a somewhat dimwitted yet endearing vibe going for most of the show, then came her time to “witness.” I swear to you, Pendleton played the part so well that I laughed until I cried. Then I laughed some more.
The rest of the cast, from John Vessels as Rev. Oglethorpe to Keith Potts as the not-quite-right Dennis Sanders, were everything I could have hoped for. Ashlie Roberson as Denise Sanders, Bobby Taylor as Burl, and Brian Gunter as Stanley rounded out the dysfunctional family Sanders nicely.
This show was performed at B&B in 2007, with Hund, Pendleton and Vessels returning from the original cast. If you didn’t get a chance to catch it then, you won’t want to make that mistake again. Even if you are like me and loathe bluegrass music, give it a try.
Instead of passively watching, the cast encourages audience participation. Even if you can’t sing or clap with any sort of rhythm, the cast of SOTM will leave you laughing out loud. The only thing missing from this Saturday night gospel sing was the passing of the collection plate, which Rev. Oglethorpe did threaten to do.
Smoke on the Mountain runs through Aug. 18 at the Beef & Boards. Ticket prices range from $37.50 to $62.50 and can be obtained by calling the box office at 317-872-9664. More information is available online at beefandboards.com.
Amy Rodriguez is a writer living in Hendricks County. You can read more of her work at rubymay1029.blogspot.com.