Annie Buckley, who plays Denise Sanders in the current Lamb’s Players Theatre production, Smoke on Mountain, is a senior at Coronado School of the Arts (CoSA). It is a joy to watch Annie and the entire cast of this excellently executed performance.
Smoke on the Mountain is a hilarious comedy with foot-stomping music and a subtle, tender sub-narrative. A glance at the audience in the almost filled-to-capacity theater revealed broad-smiles, hands clapping, and eyes twinkling from laughter.
At intermission, I turned to Stephanie Kovac Anderson and asked her what she thought of the performance. She responded, “Absolutely adorable.” Twenty-seven year old Nate Bryan said: “As good as the singing and dialogue are, it’s the actors’ physical comedy that is really crushing it.”
Smoke on the Mountain is an off-Broadway musical that was written in the late 1980s. The story takes place in the 1930s at The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Carolina. A new preacher, Mervin Oglethorpe, played by Brian Mackey, leads a Saturday evening revival meeting. We, the audience, are transformed into the “congregation.”
Even before the production begins, Reverend Oglethorpe shakes hands and welcomes eager audience members.
As he opens the revival, the Reverend invites willing patrons to join him in singing the old hymn “Rock of Ages.”
With half the audience enthusiastically joining the “Rock of Ages” sing-along and the other half enjoying their enthusiasm, all audience members knew that they were in for an evening of good fun.
The name of the musical, Smoke on the Mountain, comes from Psalm 104:32: “He who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.” A Bible verse is appropriate as the title of this play because there is a side-way bible-verse competition among the characters that creates many amusing jokes throughout the performance.
Church-goers will fondly and knowingly laugh at jokes set within familiar church themes: attendance, the collection, youth group, Children’s Times, and Praise Bands. Non-church goers will laugh uproariously at this slice of Americana – Southern style.
The music is phenomenal. Did all these fine actors really learn to play the spoons, the harp, the banjo, coconuts, a bass, a harmonica, and more? There is even American Sign Language (ASL) delivered in the production to the great wonder and delight of the audience. There seems to be almost nothing that the Saunders family cannot do.
The women really shined. Annie really is spectacular: funny, charming, and blessed with a tremendous voice. Smoke on the Mountain is also graced with Deborah Gilmour Smyth, as Vera Sanders. Deborah is the Associate Artistic Director of Lamb’s. Katie Apper as June Sanders equals the other female actors, and she is an especially fine comedic actor.
The men were equally as talented. Beau Brians, who plays one of the twin siblings, was an exceptional physical actor. He has the audience in stitches at the beginning of the second act, without saying a word. Steve Gouveia delivers one of the most meaningful monologues in the play and Rik Ogden, as Burl Sanders, and Brian Mackey as the Reverend are flawless.
Everyone in town should go see this performance. It’s two hours of pure joy.
Smoke on the Mountain is playing through November 19. For showtimes and tickets, visit the Lamb’s Players Theatre website or the box office at 1142 Orange Avenue. 619-437-6000.