Saturday, October 21, 2017

“Smoke On The Mountain”: Good Old Fashioned Revival Meeting At Lamb’s

25 years ago Connie Ray’s “Smoke On The Mountain” was mounted on the stage of the then site of Lamb’s Players Theatre in National City.

Deborah Gilmour Smyth played Vera Sander, the effervescent matriarch of the Sanders clan then, and is back at it once again in this current offering.

It was a west coast premiere directed by then associate director Kerry Meads. Meads is directing once again but now has a new title as Lamb’s Associate Artistic Director. Lamb’s has a record seven times producing it.

Set designer Mike Buckley designed the set in the round then and now, looking more traditional in the Coronado space it has the feel of a bona fide church (although you could never prove it with my background history).  
Cast of "Smoke On THe Mountain"
There is one pleasant and different surprise to the whole setup and that is Mike and Patricia Buckley’s high school daughter, Annie  (looking the spitting image of her Dad) who is now in the show and is one of the Sanders clan. She plays/sings Denise.

True to life, Annie has a twin brother on and off stage. Her stage twin is the talented Beau Brians as Dennis Sanders.   

According to Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth “there are a handful of shows that we love so much that we bring them back every now and then and “Smoke On The Mountain” is one of those.”

The 1990 Off-Broadway musical was written by Connie Ray and conceived by Alan Bailey. The title comes from Psalm 104:32 and of the over 50 or so bluegrass/gospel, hymns, praise songs, and a few surprises like “Christian Cowboy”, “I’ll Never Die, I’ll Just change My Address”,  “Rock of Ages” and “Amazing Grace” are the two that ring familiar to yours truly. 

What takes place in between all the joyfulness is that we see the different personalities and stories of the Sanders' Family. (Think the Von Trapps, kinda)  Talented beyond belief, every one in the ensemble plays a variety of instruments in fact they all have turns at playing most instruments on stage including ‘spoons’ and harmonica, scrub board, coconut shells and you name it.    

On this occasion they come prepared to sing to the members of the “Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, NC. One small hitch, the van they were in well, it turned over in a ditch “out by the pickle plant and now there are little cucumbers floating down the middle of Mount Pleasant…thousands of baby gherkins.”

The time is in the 1930’s and the new preacher, an uncomfortable in his own skin, Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe (Brian Mackey) welcomes his members to the concert.
For about a Nano-second he is in charge of the situation passing the time waiting for the Sanders’ Clan to arrive. Once they do all hell breaks loose; the group gather up their instruments and we are off and running.

There’s a running narrative, corny and hokey except for and oft times pathetically funny as when shy Dennis is coaxed into giving a sermon after he shares that he too wants to preach. Poor guy is overshadowed by his two sisters and overly protective mother and barely stands a chance to shine, which he does in his musical aptitudes, later on, but still!  

Steve Gouveia (“Shockheaded Peter” and “Jersey Boys”) is Stanley Sanders the wayward brother of family head Burl Sanders, (Rik Ogden). He’s being given a second chance in life but almost throws that away in a fit of anger but is saved by ‘the grace of G-d’. He gives a stunning show of talent with “Everyone Home But Me”, “Meet Mother in the Skies”.

Rik Ogden is the head of household, Burl. He’s what some might call the calmness in the family. He’s charming and easy to embrace. He even manages to convince the young and (in the beginning, judgmental and narrow minded) Pastor that his brother Stanley has had a tough life and forgiveness is needed. 
Seve Gouveia and Rik Ogden
The two sisters, Denise and June (Annie Buckley and Katie Sapper) have a moment as well when they bring out their tambourines and start dancing, that in turn gets all the Sanders’ up on their feet spurning the good pastor to call for a time out/ intermission. (Nice touch). "They don’t dance in this church!" “Stompin’ and clappin’ are OK, but not dancing. The girls got a good talking to behind closed doors for that little misdeed.

Just about anything Ms. Smyth does on stage adds another positive dimension. Her cheerful smile throughout can’t be denied, her Biblical quotes tell us who she is and her voice rings throughout the 'rafters'. Her June bug song about a June bug that drowned in her lemonade that eventually turned into a sermon caught me by surprise, but then again.

After all the misgivings and little guffaws, confessions and even a few flirts from the pastor there was harmony in Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, and all was right with the world.

Master of all things musical, musical director Jon Lorenz doesn’t disappoint. Jemima Dutra’s period costumes work well. Patrick Duffy’s sound was perfect on opening night and Nathan Peirson’s lighting design adds to the overall brightness of “Smoke On The Mountain”.

See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through Nov. 19th
Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Phone: 619.437.6000
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1142 Orange Ave. Coronado, CA 92117
Ticket Prices: $24.00-$76.00
Web: lambsplayers.org
Photo: Ken Jacques

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