Posted on

‘Smoke on the Mountain’ filled with ‘old-time religion’

Chances are, you won’t want to miss the new Hayswood Theatre musical comedy “Smoke on the Mountain” if you:
A. Attend a Baptist church.
B. Attend a Methodist church.
C. Grew up during the Depression.
D. Grew up in a rural community.
E. Grew up in the mountains.
F. Attend a small church in the country.
G. Like bluegrass and gospel music.
H. Wrestled with the question of Christians dancing or playing cards, or
I. All the above.
Hayswood will present “Smoke on the Mountain” – the second most popular musical on stage in the United States these days after “Pump Boys and Dinettes” – beginning Friday, Feb. 21, and running for two weekends. The musical comedy is filled with great live gospel and bluegrass music and a funny, sentimental storyline that will pull at most everyone’s heartstrings. (“Oh, yeah, my grandparents used to listen to music like that on the Grand Ole Opry,” or “That’s the kind of church I grew up in. Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe is just like my old minister.”)
Rita Hight, a multi-talented actress and special-needs teacher at the Corydon Intermediate School, is directing “Smoke.” (She’s also acting in “Murder at the Winery,” the RAPE Treatment Center fund-raiser Friday night at Huber’s Family Farm Restaurant in Starlight.)
“Smoke” is about Pastor Oglethorpe’s first week at the little Baptist church in Mount Pleasant, N.C., in 1938. Oglethorpe (Bristol Hammond of English) wants his first week to be a success, so he invites the Singing Sanders Family of nearby Siler City to supercharge his congregation and “push them on into the modern world.”
In his day job, Burrell Sanders runs a gas station and grocery “up on Highway 11.” A new product, crackers wrapped in Cellophane, and bottled Nehi cola are selling like hotcakes, but his competitors are now selling beer, and Burrell has a tough decision to make.
There are some complicating factors. The Mount Pleasant Pickle Plant has closed down and many men in the community have lost their jobs. Pastor Oglethorpe is the bookkeeper there three days a week.
On their way to the church, the Sanders Family bus hits a pickle truck and turns over, so they’re a bit discombobulated when they arrive. Nevertheless, the father, Burl Sanders (Dan Goins, a fourth grade teacher at Morgan Elementary School), can still play the guitar (“We spread the gospel through song and celebration,” he declares) and his pretty wife with long blond hair, Vera (Sara Wilkins of Leavenworth), can back up any simple declarative sentence with Bible chapter and verse like a machine.
And there’s also the subplot of one entertainer who has been in prison.
The brilliant daughter, Denise Sanders (Laura Goins, 14, Dan’s daughter), admits that she has succumbed to temptation and actually seen a movie. She plays the piano, fiddle and sings. Her twin brother, Dennis (Daniel Friedrich, 14) ) reluctantly gives a sermonette, even though he aspires to be a preacher some day.
Aunt June Sanders (Patti McClure) provides signing for the hard of hearing. To see McClure frantically sign to “Washed in the Blood of the Lamb” is, by itself, worth the price of admission.
Pastor Oglethorpe really doesn’t want to share the pull-pit on his big day, but because he’ll “do anything to help out a future member of The Called and The Touched,” he relents and even gives Dennis a few suggestions on how to point his feet while gripping the pulpit with one hand and raising the Bible with the other.
When Aunt June and Denise break out into – gasp! – a dance, for heaven’s sake, Pastor Oglethorpe frantically reassures his congregation: “They’re not dancin’. They’re just movin’ with the spirit.” He vows to straighten things out during a hasty intermission.
During the course of the evening, the audience will be treated to many rousing old-timey favorites and some they may not know: “Filling Station,” “Church in the Wildwood,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Angel Band,” “Wonderful Time Up There,” “Christian Cowboy,” the “Blood edley,” and many others.
“Smoke on the Mountain,” written by Connie Ray and first staged in the 1980s, will open Friday, Feb. 21, at 8 p.m. at the Corydon theatre and run the next night and Feb. 28 and March 1 at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees will be given at 2 p.m. on Feb. 23 and March 2.
For tickets, call Magdalena’s Restaurant in Corydon (738-8075). Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and children 12 and under.