Heaven is eternal, but 20 years of Smoke on the Mountain are heavenly for the Cumberland County Playhouse, “Tennessee’s Family Theater” and home to the state’s largest theater audience of over 135,000 annual visits.
“The publisher, Samuel French, Inc., the oldest and largest publisher for plays and musicals in the world - tells us it’s the most popular show they license,” said 2013 co-director Daniel Black, who started his Playhouse (and Smoke) career as a volunteer while still at Cumberland County High School in 1995. French also verifies that the Playhouse has done more performances than any other theater, anywhere.
Smoke on the Mountain is a crowd-pleasing, grassroots musical that tells the story of the Sanders Family Singers with a healthy dose of humor, bluegrass and gospel music. Playhouse fans have enjoyed the performances by Patty Payne, Jason Ross, Lauren Marshall, Daniel Black, Austin Price and John Dobbratz. Joining the cast this year is Anna Baker, who recently played Eponine in Les Mis.
“It’s just a terrific piece of theater,” said Black, now in his 18th Playhouse season as professional actor/director/musician, and co-director with Lauren Marshall of this year’s double-decade production.
“I learned to play guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass and harmonica in the early years of performing in Smoke,” continued the longtime Tennessee resident, “and my musical training in the CCHS Chorus helped me'discover a knack for harmonies and for music in general. With Lauren as Mama and me as Papa Burl in the show, she directs the music, and we team up on the stage direction.”
Black started Smoke in 1995 as his current character’s son, Dennis, now played by fellow CCHS grad Austin Price, appearing in his fifth professional season at CCP, and 10th season since playing the Mayor of Munchkinland in the CCP production of The Wizard of Oz.
Both men take a back seat to Crossville’s Patty Payne and Jason Ross in longevity as Smoke characters and cast members. Patty has played June Sanders and Jason has played Preacher Mervin in over 900 performances since 1993, when the show opened the Playhouse’s O’Brien Adventure Theater.
“I started out as Burl’s older daughter, but a few years ago I became Aunt June, his sister, since I’m actually a little older than Daniel and some of our other Burls,” said Patty, as June, signing her words in American Sign Language (with a few personal touches) as she speaks. Jason’s preaching has simply matured a bit.
Smoke on the Mountain opens May 24 and runs through Aug. 2. There will be a unique and wonderful evening on June 29 at 7:30 p.m. for the official 20th anniversary, when cast members from past seasons of Smoke will make an appearance. Celebrate with us. Call 484-5000 for tickets and information or visit our website at www.ccplayhouse.com. Smoke on the Mountain is sponsored by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.
Currently showing is Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5: The Musical (rated PG-13 and sponsored by the Conference Center at Fairfield Glade) through July 14. Upcoming events include a unique love story in The King and I, June 14-Aug. 30 (rated G and sponsored by Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Suites, Hampton Inn); and Leroy Troy and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band in concert June 21, sponsored by Mariner’s Pointe Resort.
All CCP productions are made possible through sponsor support, with additional support provided by the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.