Get ready to clap your hands, tap your toes and "get into the Spirit," as the Saunders Family Singers prepare to perform at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church’s first ever "Saturday Night Gospel Sing," staged at the request of the church’s pastor, Oglethorpe (Greg Pragel).
We get to meet and greet this talented, somewhat quirky, flawed but always uniquely entertaining family. As the production opens we (the audience) become the congregation, enjoying the nearly 30 classic gospel tunes that propel us back to a much simpler time and place (North Carolina, at the end of the depression 1938).
"Smoke on the Mountain", the current offering at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre originally opened in Ohio, then traveled to a successful stay Off Broadway at the Lamb’s Club Theatre, (where I first caught the show in 2002).
This down to earth, award winning, world-wide successful musical hit of bluegrass gospel was conceived by and based on Alan Bailey’s real life experience; the show was then written by Connie Ray.
The playwright uses a plotline that’s a nifty blend of the Saunders family, telling their story in both music and song. You’ll laugh at this family’s zany antics, and witness the heartwarming conclusion, which serves to remind us, what it means to be part of a family.
The multi talented cast of seven come to us directly from successful runs at the Prather’s two other theaters Palm West in Arizona and the Dutch Apple Theatre in Pennsylvania. "Smoke" was both Directed and performed by Paul Kerr playing the patriarch of the family, Burl Saunders. Director Kerr deserves high praise, since the show is performed without the benefit of choreography (and dancing isn’t allowed in a Baptist Church).
Kerr utilized fluid fast paced movement as well as quick delivery of the story line material to effective comic use. As the family patriarch Burl actor/singer/musician, Kerr sings and plays confidently, becoming totally convincing as the leader of this family, helping one and all overcome the obstacles life has handed them. Likewise could be said of April Lee Uzarski playing Burl’s strong but sympathetic, Bible quoting, wife Vera.
Ashley Pankow has a robust, yet sweet soaring singing voice, matching as well as complimenting her portrayal of the family’s youngest girl, Denise. Andrew Crowe sings equally well and is believable as her shy twin brother, Dennis. Although the best male vocalist and the most effective acting depiction was given by Justin Droegemueller as Uncle Stanley, a man with a checkered past.
The scene stealer of the evening award goes to the hilarious comic actress Kiersten Vorheis as the vocally challenged, middle sister, June; a member of this musical family who "signs not sings."
Her less than accurate sign language for each song as well as her delivery of some of the funnier dialogue in this show contributed mightily to the comic relief embedded in this production. Rounding out the cast is Greg Pragel as Pastor Oglethorpe, a sort of Pee Wee Herman, high on speed, interpretation, if you get my drift.
Aside from the acting skills, each member in this cast demonstrates additional talents by providing their own musical accompaniment. Every performer is an accomplished musician playing at least four or five instruments (piano, fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, ukulele, mandolin, even the accordion and washboard.
"Smoke on the Mountain" is mighty entertaining, the perfect fare for a summer’s evening out, for the entire family, and since this production only plays till July 2nd, my suggestion is to phone the Box Office now, at 278-4422 for reservations.
When you call remind ‘em Marsha sent you.