Posted by Bruce Miller
Has any theatre in Richmond ever produced three iterations (the original plus two sequels) of any show before? That’s what we’re about to do with Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, the final of three bluegrass gospel musicals conceived by Alan Bailey and written by Connie Ray, all featuring a multi-talented fictional family church band from the 1940s—the Sanders Family.
I know that the Mill has produced umpteen annual sequels to their Drifty the Snowman holiday musical for children and families. And the Mill has also done the first two of the Sanders Family shows: Smoke on the Mountain and Sanders Family Christmas. Also, the Mill did land office business, I’m told, with Forever Plaid followed by Plaid Tidings, and Greater Tuna followed by A Tuna Christmas.
But can anyone think of a Richmond professional theatre that’s done THREE published (not original), inter-connected shows for adult audiences?
I’m not trying to start a trend. In general, I think sequels in theatre are a little silly. You won’t find us following our revival of Nunsense with any of its eight siblings: Nunsense 2: The Second Coming, Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree, Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical, Meshuggah-Nuns!, Nunsensations: The Nunsense Vegas Revue, Nunsense A-Men (with an all-monk cast), Nunset Blvd (I can only imagine), and Sister Robert Anne's Cabaret Class. (These last three additions had previously escaped my notice and were provided to me by Billy Christopher Maupin.)
I’m not making this stuff up. Those are real sequels, produced somewhere, adored by millions.
Anyway, I LOVE the three Sanders Family shows (and please authors, let it remain only three), because they take me back to my rural Mennonite roots, they’re filled with wonderful characters and terrific music. Luckily for us, we have an exemplary cast that can act the roles, sing the songs, and play 22 different instruments between them.
It's a bluegrass concert fit to beat the band.
Drew Perkins (Burl, the Dad) plays guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo and ukulele. He also serves as music director. Kelly Kennedy (stepping into the Vera / Mama role previously filled by Julie Fulcher) plays guitar, piano, harmonium, accordion and spoons. Eric Williams (Uncle Stanley) makes merry on guitar, bass, harmonica and triangle.
Among the younger generation, Emily plays Denise (the female half of the twins). She also plays guitar, harp, mountain dulcimer, washboard, piano, bass, limberjack and tambourine. The male half of the twins (Dennis) is played by David Janeski, as are the guitar, bass, mandolin, limberjack and shaker. Billy Christopher Maupin, when he’s not involved in one of the 287 other theatre ventures that currently fill his dance card, plays Rev. Oglethorpe, who cuts loose on piano, bass and the occasional percussive noisemaker.
And then there’s Aly Wepplo. Aly performs ASL (American Sign Language)—a little less in this show than in the previous two—and plays some traditional and unique percussion instruments: tambourine, shaker, triangle, telephone bell, tugglaphone and wend-o-wheel. She also plays the trumpet. In the show, Aly portrays sister June, the wife of Billy Christopher Maupin’s character. In real life, Aly is married to David Janeski. They fell in love during the run of Smoke on the Mountain, and got engaged, in front of a live audience, following a performance of Sanders Family Christmas.
If you haven’t seen any of the previous Sanders Family musicals, I hope you’ll join us for Smoke … Homecoming. It’s funny, tuneful, and guaranteed to cheer your spirit.
It certainly cheers mine.