Aired on KSDS-FM on 11/10/18
RUN DATES: 10/12/17 – 11/19/17 and 1/5/18 – 1/28/18
VENUE: Lamb’s Players Theatre
If you like bluegrass, or gospel, or impressive musicianship, you’ll love “Smoke on the Mountain,” at Lamb’s Players Theatre.
This impassioned play is a Lambs’ perennial, stretching back decades. It’s a spirited, spiritual visit with the fervent, singing Sanders family, making a comeback appearance, after a 5-year hiatus, at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in North Carolina.
Fresh-faced preacher Mervin Oglethorpe is happy to have them. It’s 1938, and times are tough; folks are being laid off from the pickle factory, and the store down the road has the temerity to sell beer. But, he says, it maybe it’s time for “us Baptists to push on into the modern world.”
There isn’t much story in Connie Ray’s 1988 Off Broadway musical; it’s mostly about making a Joyful Noise.
Under Kerry Meads’ expert direction, a terrifically talented cast carves out dimensional, credible characters. For every number, they trade off instruments, switching dexterously from piano to standup bass, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, autoharp, harmonica, even washboard and spoons. Oh, and coconuts.
It’s mind-blowing how versatile these performers are, and how beautifully they sing — in solos, tight harmonies, a capella or accompanied.
Witnessing and testifying are important to this family, so we hear from each of them, all about their dreams or sins or, in the case of scruffy Uncle Stanley, their 18-month incarceration. Through it all, the humor runs high.
The San Diego favorites are wonderful, as always: Deborah Gilmour Smyth, as the slightly ditsy, Bible-quoting matriarch she first played 25 years ago; Brian Mackey as the puppyish preacher; Katie Sapper, animatedly interpreting the songs in sign language; and multi-instrumentalists Steve Gouveia and Rik Ogden as the downtrodden uncle and the kind-hearted paterfamilias.
The two young surprises are L.A.-based Beau Brians, hilarious in his uptight demeanor and measured gait; and as his twin, ebullient 18 year-old Annie Buckley, daughter of the gifted scenic designer, Mike Buckley.
There’s a subtle thematic thread of encouraging open-mindedness and acceptance of differences… certainly a worthy message these days.
If you take joy in music, you won’t go home unfulfilled or unredeemed.
©2018 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews