This is the 20th anniversary production of the beloved Smoke on the Mountain.
Opening night felt like a reunion, seeing dear friends from years past and accepting the fact of change.
Daniel Black started playing Dennis, the boy twin, son of Burl in 1995. Now, he plays Burl and co-directs the show with Lauren Marshall-Murphy. Black has developed his musical skills on guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass and harmonica during his years on the stage at the Playhouse. He has become a fine actor as well. He has added drama to the recreated the story of the explosion of the beer man’s car. He has encouraged each member of the cast to tweak his or her role.
It is amazing to see all the instruments in constant use by various cast members through the 27 songs that are an integral aspect of the show. These are indeed multi-talented actor/musicians. Some music is traditional gospel. Some is unique to Smoke on the Mountain, written by Connie Ray, conceived by Alan Bailey with the musical arrangements by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick.
Patty Payne has played the role of June over 900 times since the play opened in 1993. I remember her first as Burl’s older daughter. With a bow to reality, accepting the fact she was older than Black and others who played Burl, Payne became Burl’s sister. Every family needs a beloved Aunt June who has special understanding of their nieces and nephews. Her gyrations, as she interprets for the non-existent deaf audience, are hilarious. There is the tender moment as she hands Mervin a tambourine. It is she who asks us all the profound question, “Do we listen or just talk?”
Playhouse favorite Jason Ross equals Payne in longevity in Smoke. I have seen others play Mervin Oglethorpe over the years. No one comes on stage to celebrate the single electric light bulb so joyously as does Ross. No other actor holds the audience wordlessly in suspense as he searches for the delayed guests expected at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Mt. Pleasant, North Carolina in 1938. Ross can milk a line or a silent moment. Torn between joy in the music and concern for the feelings of his congregation, Ross elicits an evening full of laughter. Do not miss the subtle, yet budding, relationship between June and Mervin.
There are two cast members new to Smoke on the Mountain this year. We are grateful that Anna Baker has forsaken New England for the Cumberland Plateau. She becomes a delightful Denise Sanders, the girl twin. Her story of secretly boarding the bus for an audition for the movie role of Scarlett O’Hara is hilariously done. She is the innocent while trying to be an adult. Baker and Austin Price, the boy twin, are wonderfully funny together with the enhanced version of “Christian Cowboy.” Oglethorpe is left to wonder, “How open minded would Jesus be about a little swing?”
Co-directors Lauren Marshall and Daniel Black have clearly given Austen Price a chance to take that segment of the script as far as possible. It is outrageous and delightful.
Price has literally grown up at the Playhouse, moving from child actor to an adult member of the professional company. As Dennis, he succeeds in growing from the shy youngster attending Bible school, having his mother write his “sermonette” and preaching to his dog, Rufus, into a powerful Bible waving orator, in the space of the evening. Price allows himself to be a part of the ensemble in this show. Well done, Austin.
John Dobbratz moved seamlessly into the family as Stanley. He had played the role in Sanders Family Christmas. In fact, he appears to step easily into each and every role he has had since coming to the Playhouse. His fine vocal rendition of “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now” is deeply moving. Dobbratz’ telling the story of his powerful fellow prisoner is well done. He leads us to see beyond the angry prisoner to the lonely man, receiving his first hug since he was a twelve-year-old. Our hearts feel compassion, along with Stanley, for lonely prisoners everywhere whose journey has taken them behind bars.
Lauren Marshall both directs the musical aspect of the show and plays the role of the mother. Over the past several years, she has developed the role of Vera Sanders, the glue that holds this family together. Her remarkable musical talents as pianist and violinist undergird the production. Her voice adds to the ensemble; I am especially fond of her rendition of “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” as part of the so-called “Blood Medley.”
Smoke on the Mountain is dependent on a cohesive cast working together, shifting among a variety of instruments, blending their voices, and merging their talents into a whole for the sake of the performance. This cast managed to come together as one, even on this 20th year of opening nights.
We must add our word of thanks to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. They have sponsored Smoke on the Mountain for all twenty years. As a reviewer, or in earlier years, the spouse of the reviewer, I have laughed and cried my way through countless productions of this show. It is great to take your guests to see it, but give yourself a treat and revisit Smoke on the Mountain.
This is the 20th anniversary production of the beloved Smoke on the Mountain.
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"Front Page News" held over in Dayton
Cumberland County Playhouse and its producing partner The Scopes Festival in Dayton, TN, have added three more performances of "Front Page News," the newly adapted, historically accurate play with music, currently being staged in the historic “monkey trial” courtroom in Dayton’s Rhea County Courthouse. Additional shows of the new work are Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., and the final show Sunday at 2:30 p.m. All times are EDT.
Scarcrow Walk set Oct. 4-31 in Granville
The Second Annual Granville Scarecrow Walk will be in Historic Granville on Oct. 4 through Oct. 31.
Conlee to perform at Palace
John Conlee is a lot like the songs of which he sings. He lives a domestic life with his wife Gale and three children, Rebecca, Jessica and Johnny. During the past two decades, Conlee has achieved a level of success that he has sustained by simply being himself and by making records that the listening public can relate to. He is a gifted entertainer, but he’s not into the glitz and hype of the entertainment world. He’d rather spend his “off the road” time working on his 32 acre farm outside of Nashville or engaging in his woodworking and gunsmithing hobbies.
'Friday Night Air' features City Lites
The “Friday Night Air” summer concert series continues Friday at the Spirit Broadband amphitheater in downtown Crossville with the City Lites Band. They are a very popular four-piece band from Crossville that has performed throughout Tennessee and the Southeast for more than three decades. Their lineup features Marty Gibson on guitar and vocals, Flavy Miller on bass and vocals, Glenn Holverson on saxophones and Wade England on drums. The song list includes a wide variety of musical styles from swing, country, '50’s and '60’s, rock and more. Something for everyone to enjoy! The performance is free to the public and begins at 6 p.m. and is sponsored by the Historic Palace Theatre and the city of Crossville.
Gypsy, Front Page News open this weekend
They're gearing up for a very exciting week both at the Cumberland County Playhouse and at the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton!
Vintage Dance Society opens PAART season
The Performing Arts Alliance of Rural Tennessee (PAART) is pleased to announce the first event in it’s 2014-15 season: the Lexington Vintage Dance Society will perform "Downton Abbey Era: The Titanic to the Jazz Age" in period costumes. This performance will take place Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Palace Theatre in Crossville.
Gypsy Hombres take stage Sunday
For years, there has been a persistent legend in Nashville about a crazy gypsy ‘Fiddler on the Roof” who dances as he plays the violin on the roof of his Victorian house. Cumberland County Playhouse will prove the legend is 100 percent true as The Gypsy Hombres take the stage Sunday.
'Gypsy' opens July 18 at CCP
Beginning July 18, everything’s coming up roses as the Playhouse brings one of the greatest American musicals of all time to life… “Gypsy”! From the unforgettable first notes of its legendary overture to the final white hot spotlight, “Gypsy” is considered by many to be “the best musical ever,” as it tells the story of the archetypal stage mother, Rose, and her daughters, June and Louise.
‘Wild Man’ takes Palace stage Aug. 23
Look out, Crossville, here comes the coolest guy in town and his name is Rafael R. Soriano, also known by fans everywhere as “Wild Man,” but he calls himself “Wild Man Billy Ralph!”
'An Evening with Steven Whitson' to benefit Kids on the Rise
ds on the Rise will be hosting a fund-raising concert Aug. 2 at the Palace Theatre. The local non-profit agency will present An Evening with Steven Whitson.
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