Smoke on the Mountain

Book by Constance Ray
Conceived by Alan Bailey
Musical Arrangements by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick

Directed by Robb Smith
September 16 to October 2, 2011

Read the Reviews: Waukesha Freeman, WaukeshaNOW

Click on a photo to see a larger image

Photos By Carroll Studios Of Photography

Volunteer of the Production

David Scott

Director Robb Smith Talks About The Show


Samantha Burkard

Denise Sanders

Emily Knutson

June Sanders

Ann Morrow

Vera Sanders

Corey Richards

Mervin Oglethorpe

David Scott

Burl Sanders

Phil Stepanski

Stanely Sanders

Jacob Subrink

Dennis Sanders

Production Staff 

Director, Scenic Designer, Master Carpenter

Robb Smith

Music Director, Sound Designer

Jacob Subrink

Co-Stage Manager, Properties Designer

Laura Anderle-Smith

Co-Stage Manager

Pam Seccombe

Wig Master

Anthony Mackie

Costume Designer

Sally Burkard

Costume Designer

Sharon Sohner

Light board Operator

Shawn Spellman

Sound Board Operator

Debi Mumford

Assistant Stage Manager

Gabe Smith

Civic Theatre's 'Smoke' a rollicking good time

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic
September 22, 2011

Picture a small town, a tiny Baptist church (67 in attendance last Sunday), an ardent minister who can quote from the Bible with frequency and vigor and a traveling singing group (The Sanctified Sanders Singers) about to arrive to impress the locals.

You are now in Mount Pleasant, N.C., in 1938, to listen, learn and be entertained by this unusual family of musicians praising the Lord, but sometimes ruffling the prudish, rule-conscious Minister Oglethorpe with their unpredictable antics.

There are the parents, Burl and Vera, Uncle Stanley, recently released from jail, fraternal twins Denise and Dennis, and June, an older sister who plays a mean fiddle. Anything can happen with this group and often does.

Solo songs, ensemble numbers and anecdotes comprise the Sanctified Sanders' repertoire. Mother hen Vera is strongly domineering and virtually engaged in all proceedings as she tries to control her adult children's behaviors, in vain for the most part. She can quote the Bible with the best of them, as well. Ann Morrow is excellent in her mother role, and her story about the June bugs may have been the apex of the show.

Stanley, the prodigal son, played by Phil Stepanski, moves us with his "Everyone Home But Me." He doesn't have the strongest voice, but his narrative ability more than compensates.

Samantha Burkard and Jacob Sudbrink as the twins have the most melodious and flexible voices. "Whispering Hope" was one of the sweetest group numbers, and "I'll Fly Away," one of the most inspiring.

The production features 28 songs in all.

The guitar, the fiddle, the piano, the bass and various other percussive instruments provide the upbeat accompaniment. Many of the performers can play multiple instruments. The costumes designed by Sarah Sohner, and the set design by Robb Smith are very effective in setting up an austere atmosphere, which contrasted nicely with the relatively "free" style of the performers.

Corey Richards is excellent as Minister Oglethorpe. His attempts to keep things under control are as futile as they are amusing. Emily Knutson as June is not always easily understood in her speaking parts, but she conveys a certain charming innocence. Burl, the father figure in the group, is often dominated by his wife, but his contributions musically are impressive.

The adherence to the Bible, along with its inconsistencies, was amusing. Whoever said that even the devil can quote The Bible to serve his own purposes could strengthen his case by listening to the banter between opposing points of view conveyed here. There was certainly a mix of mockery evident in this show, along with a sincere love of religion and the beautiful music that often accompanies its practice.

The audience enjoyment peaked when they joined in the singing and clapping

Review Title

By Reviewer Name
Posted: Month 16, 2011

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Cast fired up for 'Smoke's' many instruments

Everyone plays in WCT show of gospel music

By Marilyn Jozwik - WaukeshaNOW Theater Critic
Sept. 20, 2011

It's a bit like "Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour" on steroids meets Oral Roberts.

WCT's "Smoke on the Mountain" has got more music jammed into its hour and 45 minutes than a guitar picker has picks and more Bible quotations than a Billy Graham sermon.

The radio show in 1938 at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Carolina hosted by Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe (Corey Richards), featuring the Sanders Family, is the excuse for the 30 gospel bluegrass tunes, many of them recognizable. The music is notable for the fact that each of the members of the Sanders Family plays more than one instrument.

One minute mom Vera (Ann Morrow) is playing the piano, the next she's pluckin' the bass. In one tune their son Dennis (Jacob Sudbrink) is strummin' a mean mandolin and the next he's bowing a fiddle. His twin sister Denise (Samantha Burkard) takes up a banjo, guitar and even a chromaharp. And so it goes, from banjo to guitar to fiddles. Richards even breaks out an accordion. Don't be surprised if you see a washboard or two and hear the sound of horse hoofs and train whistles, either.

It's like musical chairs with instruments - when the music stops, grab a new one.

The music is the focus - toe-tapping, harmonious bluegrass gospel tunes that lift the spirit and feed the soul. But wrapped around the songs is the story of the Sanders Family and the antics of the overzealous Pastor Oglethorpe. You just know it's going to be a fun night when the Sanders family arrives late for the radio show - causing Pastor Oglethorpe considerable distress, which he doesn't hide - and we hear the story of how their bus ended up upside-down.

We learn more about the family as each member gives a testimonial on his/her faith - from dad Burl Sanders' (David Scott's) story of the salesman who tried to get him to sell beer at his gas station, to Denise's tale of auditioning before David O. Selznick ("a little man was sittin' on each side lookin' up at him, just like the Last Supper") for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind." But the story of the Christian June bug that Vera tells is one of the funniest episodes on the WCT stage in recent years. Morrow tells the tale with all the right gestures and pauses and the ending is just drop-dead hilarious. Even the cast had a hard time containing their amusement on opening night.

Getting to know the family makes the music even sweeter and it seems to get better as it goes along - as each family member tells his/her tale you begin to feel the special bond of this close-knit group.

The music is really quite incredible, considering each cast member plays several instruments. Sudbrink shows some slick moves on the mandolin and fiddle especially in the "The Blood Medley." Emily Knutson as the third Sanders child, June, too plays a nice fiddle and handles the guitar and mandolin well. Just about everyone gets a turn on the bass and all look like naturals.

The croonings of Burkard and Sudbrink are most pleasing. Burkard just seems to sparkle when she steps out from behind a banjo or guitar. Her voice is clear and lilting, effortlessly, joyously filling up the room with sweet sounds. She and Sudbrink put down their instruments for "Christian Cowboy" and have fun riding the song with well-paired vocals.

Scott and Morrow manage their tunes adequately, but don't have the appeal of Burkard and Sudbrink.

Phil Stepanski as Burl's brother Stanley tackles a variety of percussions to create all sorts of interesting effects. He has the unfortunate task, however, of having to sing two of the more somber tunes in the show, "Meet Mother in the Skies" and "Everyone Home But Me," which slows down the energy. Then again, maybe a break from pace isn't a bad idea. He does a good job, but the sound seemed a little tight.

The gospel harmonies are very pleasant throughout the show. The a cappella "Whispering Hope" is beautifully done." Another highlight is "Angel Band," which features Richards as Oglethorpe on the accordion.

Richards is, as always, entertaining. It's been a while since we've seen him on the WCT stage, but audiences have come to expect a special performance from him, including turns in "42nd Street" and "Miracle on 34th Street."

His Oglethorpe is often on edge during the Sanders show as he tries to keep the Sanders family from offending the sensibilities of his staid congregation which has come to see the show. When the Sanders girls start a simple dance routine during one of the numbers, Richards' Oglethorpe nearly jumps out of his skin trying to hide their "objectionable" moves.

The onstage show ends with the Sanders family urging the audience to join them in singing "I'll Fly Away." After a few rounds, that's exactly what they did.

As audience members left, you could hear the exclamations of delight.

Volunteer of the Production - David Scott

For the musical numbers in this show, cast members needed both vocal and instrumental talent. David excelled in the both areas and displayed great musicianship on all of the instruments that he played. He also made extra time to teach other members of cast how to play additional instruments. He graciously loaned three of his own instruments to the show as well. One crew member said "David always makes a down moment shine!"