Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 14, 2013

An old favorite returns with 'A Sanders Family Christmas'

By Pat Robbennolt
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — A Sanders Family Christmas hurls us back to December 24, 1941. Weslie Webster has directed new life into this beloved production on the stage of the Adventure Theater at the Cumberland County Playhouse.

There have been changes over the years since this show first ushered us into the Christmas season (whether we were ready or not). I remember when Daniel Black was Dennis, the “boy twin.” He has aged into being the father of the Sanders family.

New faces bring their own interpretations of the Sanders twins. Malachi Banegas plays Dennis with the alternating bravado and shyness of a teenage boy. He scarcely appears old enough to be shipping off to war in the morning. It is all too easy to join his mother, Vera, played by Lauren Marshall in shedding tears at the mere thought of his going. Anna Burnett confessed that playing Denise Sanders was a dream role for her. She does a delightful job of assuring us that she has put away childish ways. She, too, will be serving her country in an adult manner. Wait until you hear her plans.

It is a treat to have Nathaniel Hackmann in the role of Stanley Sanders. Stanley is an ex-con whose voice has brought recognition on the radio and even some bit parts in Hollywood. He is loyal to the family that accepts him and loves him. Hackmann’s voice adds a new timbre to the chorus of family members. Not even Mervin can throw them off key as he determinedly joins in. Hackmann brings new insight to the story of the straw watch and the burro.

Over the years, others have sought to assume the role of Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe, but, it is Jason Ross who gives him life and authenticity. Ross has brought laughter and appreciative applause to the many shows of which he has been a part since May of 1996. He manages to milk even more laughs with his bumbling chauvinism in this version of A Sanders Family Christmas.

Patty Payne, as June, the beloved aunt of the twins appears to lovingly minister to Oglethorpe’s need. She can fix everything from the fuse on the Christmas tree to the boots stuck on the pastor’s feet. Whether signing for the deaf people who are not present, or banging the tambourine, Payne does everything with gusto, until she is asked an unexpected question. In her struggle to respond, Payne presents a wholly different aspect of June’s personality in a moving manner.   

Lauren Marshall serves as musical director as well as playing the role of Vera Sanders, the mother of the twins and the stalwart of the family. Marshall is who is playing a woman much older than herself is remarkably convincing. Her voice is a lovely complement to the rest of the company. Particularly touching is her singing of “Hold Fast to the Right” to Dennis.

The idea of Alan Bailey, the writing of Connie Ray, and the musical arrangements by John Foley and Gary Fagin, were brought together to create A Sanders Family Christmas. The direction of Weslie Webster appears to have enabled this particular cast of characters to bring us an old favorite that feels very new. Order your tickets and share this production with your guests. It runs through December 22.