Wednesday, December 10, 2008

John's Joy - "The Perfect Richmond Holiday Play!"

Posted by Bruce Miller
John Porter's rave review of Sanders Family Christmas was finally aired on WCVE-FM, and it was worth the wait. It seems to be the radio station's policy to air one review a week, so when shows open one on top of another, you have to wait your turn.

Rather than excerpt, I'll quote the entire review, since it is not available elsewhere in print. Many of you may have missed the radio broadcast.

Thanks, John, for your kind words. Here's the review!
. . . . . . . . .

"Sometimes writing these theatre reviews is easy, and sometimes it is much more difficult. This is one of those easy times, because it is my privilege to talk about Sanders Family Christmas, which is now playing at Barksdale Hanover Tavern. It is very close to being the perfect Richmond holiday play.

It’s a musical, with great seasonal tunes. It looks back at an earlier time—the United States entry into WWII—with nostalgia and reverence. The cast and crew are greatly talented and they know how to put on an entertaining show.

If you’re looking for deep truths revealed through a dark, twisted, psychological drama, you’re probably going to be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a fast show featuring good music, a little story telling, and a warm and fuzzy glow afterwards, then by all means, you’ve come to the right place.

The stellar cast includes Drew Perkins, a strong actor and great musician, as Burl Sanders, the leader of the gospel singing family, who has arrived in the snow to sing songs and witness during the holiday season. Julie Fulcher plays Vera, his equally talented wife and partner in the family business.

Eric Williams is Stanley, the brother, who despite his shady past has moved on to enjoy fame singing on the radio and in the movies. The twins, Denise and Dennis, are played with gusto by Emily Cole and David Janeski, and they manage to wring out their own separate identities despite being lumped together all the time. This may be Dennis’s last appearance with the family, as he is shipping off to boot camp right after the holidays.

The oldest child, June, is warmly played by Aly Wepplo, who despite her character’s self-professed inability to play or sing still joins in with great support and occasional sign language, if anyone needs it. Her wide-eyed innocence is heartwarming, and Ms Wepplo shows a great deal of promise in this role.

Lastly, the Rev Oglethorpe, who has arranged this evening, is delightfully played by Billy Christopher Maupin. His portrayal is of an earnest young man who will do anything to keep his church open, and who is very sincere in his affection for one special member of the Sanders Family. Don’t worry; it becomes very obvious very quickly.

Director Bruce Miller has once again made his job easier by putting together a winning cast and a very capable design team. The old country church that has been created by set designer Terrie Powers and David Powers is comfortable, cozy, and gives you the feeling of a landmark held together more by love and prayer than by brick and mortar.

Lights are by Slade Billow, and costumes are by Sue Griffin, who once again does a terrific job with her creation.

Sanders Family Christmas is solid family entertainment from beginning to end, and features some of Richmond’s best talent performing in an intimate space in the country.

For this critic’s money, you just can’t go wrong with that combination.

For WCVE Public Radio, I’m John Porter."
--Bruce Miller

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