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Smoke on the Mountain returns to Cumming Playhouse
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Glenda Tibbals Gray and TJ Johns, front, perform a duet, as Matthew Lunsford, Dave Holbrook and Larsen Kennedy watch during a rehearsal for Smoke on the Mountain. The production opens Oct. 1 at the Cumming Playhouse. - photo by For the FCN

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* “Smoke on the Mountain” runs Thursdays-Sundays Oct. 1 to 25 at the Cumming Playhouse, 101 School St.

* Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m., while Sunday performances begin at 3 p.m.

* Tickets are $27.50, or $25 for seniors or students, and can be purchased at www.playhousecumming.com or by calling (770) 781-9178.

CUMMING — One of the most beloved musicals to grace the Cumming Playhouse stage is returning in October.

“Smoke on the Mountain,” the story of a Christian family band making their return to the Gospel music circuit during a Saturday night church singing in 1938, begins its four-week run Oct. 1.

Linda Heard, executive director of the Playhouse, said “Smoke on the Mountain” was first produced by Playright Productions, a group that has since disbanded, not long after the venue opened. It enjoyed five sellout seasons.

“This show was one of the first to really put the Cumming Playhouse on the map,” Heard said. “It remains one of the few shows in the history of the Playhouse to completely sell out every performance.

“We haven’t had a production of ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ for several years now, so I thought it was important to bring this show back to our local stage, given its history at our venue.”

The show is being produced by Proctor, Turner & Green LLC, dba SwanRise Productions. It’s under the direction of Jeneen Hammond, who has led many shows at Free Chapel church in Gainesville.

Rather than using professional actors, Hammond decided to hold open-call auditions to fill the roles in this production.

“We felt that this version of ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ should reflect our community by having local folks cast in all the roles,” Hammond said. “We have so many talented people right here in Cumming and neighboring counties that I wanted to give them an opportunity to be a part of this beloved show.”

Not only did her open-call yield talent, but also diversity.

Actors cast in the principal roles of the Sanders family range from a local pastor and home-school mom, to marketing professionals and high school and college students. Other cast members include a minister’s son, Gospel singers and retired educators.

Heard said audiences will especially enjoy the musical accompaniment in this production.

“Most of the actors do not play instruments,” she said. “And as anyone who has seen this show before knows, the instruments play a big part. So there is a very special treat for audiences.”

Heard explained that The Skillet Lickers, a multi-generational bluegrass band based in Dacula, will be joining the cast to provide the musical accompaniment.

The Skillet Lickers have been producing music since 1923, which ironically is the same year the Cumming Schoolhouse, which houses the Playhouse, was built.

Passing their musical skills and knowledge down from generation to generation, The Skillet Lickers have been making music and recording albums for the past 92 years. Today’s Skillet Lickers include third-, fourth- and fifth-generation members, descended from the group’s 1923 founders.

Russ Tanner, a fourth-generation member, said he and the other Skillet Lickers were thrilled at the prospect of providing music for “Smoke on the Mountain.”

“When we found out that the Cumming Schoolhouse was built the same year that our founders began recording country music, we sort of took it as a sign that we needed to be a part of this show,” he said.

Tanner added that the response by Skillet Licker fans has been impressive, too.

“This is a very well-loved show,” Tanner said. “Every time we have mentioned that we are going to be doing this show, everyone has been super excited about it. We’re really looking forward to it.”

He said the show’s time period harkens back to the Skillet Lickers’ beginnings.

“A lot of these songs are ones that I’m sure the original Skillet Lickers probably heard and maybe even performed,” he added. “So doing this show, with its 1938 setting, is a great way for us to connect to our roots even more than usual.”

Hammond, the show’s director, said audiences will also probably notice a few other changes from some versions of the show, such additional characters.

“So many talented people turned out for our auditions that we wanted to find a way to work a couple more of them into the show,” she said. “Audiences will really get a kick out of our extra characters who add even more humor to this already hilarious show.”

Both Heard and Hammond hope this version of “Smoke on the Mountain” will be just as successful as past productions.

“Anybody who grew up in the South, in church, or who just loves great music and having fun will enjoy this show,” Hammond said. “It’s totally family-friendly, and our cast and musicians bring so much heart to it.

“I really don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to come check it out. Even if they’ve seen a dozen versions of this show, this production is unique and special.”

Added Heard: “This show has become a big part of the Cumming Playhouse’s history and we want to keep the tradition of ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ alive for audiences today, as well as those in the future.”