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Southern favorite returns to Cumming Playhouse
Gospel musical ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ runs Sept. 6-30
Smoke on the Mountain
From left, John Clark Byrd, Crystal Ledford and Smitty Lucas perform a scene of ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ at the Cumming Playhouse. - photo by For the FCN

A well-known Southern musical that has delighted thousands of Cumming Playhouse patrons over the years returns to the local venue Sept. 6-30. 

In “Smoke on the Mountain,” young and enthusiastic preacher, Mervin Oglethorpe, has recruited the Sanders family to help bring his 1938, rural Baptist congregation into “the modern world” by leading the church’s first-ever Saturday night singing. 

The stop at the small-town North Carolina church marks the Sanders’ first time back on the “Gospel music circuit” in five years, and young Pastor Oglethorpe soon realizes he’s in for much more than he bargained when the Sanders’ zany personalities quickly take over his pulpit. Hilarious antics — tempered with genuinely heart-warming moments — quickly ensue, making the evening one that the Mount

Smoke on the Mountain
Pleasant Baptist congregation (and Cumming Playhouse audiences) won’t soon forget. 

“Smoke on the Mountain” was one of the first shows produced at the Cumming Playhouse and has been brought back several times over the years due to its continued popularity with local audiences. 

In 2015 and 2016, the show was returned to the Playhouse stage using all local actors. The Skillet Lickers — a Dacula-based, multi-generational, country string band — was tapped to provide musical accompaniment for the cast. In 2017, the band and cast presented the holiday-themed sequel, “Sanders Family Christmas.” 

The Skillet Lickers will again be providing accompaniment throughout the show, as well as a short opening concert starting about 20 minutes prior to each show time. 

Director Glenda Gray, who also directed the 2016 and 2017 productions, said she was thrilled to return to this special show. Since 2015, Gray has also portrayed matriarch Vera Sanders. 

“‘Smoke on the Mountain’ is truly good for the heart,” said Gray, who will again reprise her role this year. “In a world that is proliferated with negativity and violent reports, we could all use something to lift our spirits— and this show does just that. 

“Filled with hilarity and truly sweet moments of familial devotion, this show is a breath of fresh air for the soul.” 

Russ Tanner, a fourth-generation member of The Skillet Lickers, said band members have all been equally happy to return to the fictional Mount Pleasant Baptist Church year and after year. 

“We all fell in love with the Sanders family after just a few rehearsals when we started back in 2015,” Tanner said. “This is a great group of folks and a show that anybody — especially anybody who grew up in church in the South — can really relate to. It’s a very accurate depiction of life during that simpler time, and it’s full of good, clean humor that is totally hilarious.” 

Gray said another aspect of “Smoke on the Mountain” that makes it so enduring is the spirit of community that has developed among the cast, and which the show also seems to inspire for audiences. 

“All of us in the cast, especially those of us who have worked together for three years now, have developed a great bond. We are really like the Sanders in that we have all become a ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ family,” she said. “The true affection that we all have for one another will be apparent to our audiences.” 

While much remains the same this year as in years past, Gray said there are a few new faces in on stage and all the actors and musicians have worked to change up the show in subtle ways. 

“We have been working really hard to build on the quality that we have established over the past three years, and we just want to take it to a higher level,” she said. “We’ve worked to fine-tune all the details and we’ve done some things that will bring the audience into the show even more.” 

She noted that anyone interested in seeing this year’s production should act quickly to get their tickets since they tend to sell quickly. 

“This show seems to bring the community together in a unique way that you don’t see with most shows,” she said. “It’s a lot like a school reunion or an annual church revival — people want to keep coming back year after year to catch up with old friends.” 

“Smoke on the Mountain” runs Thursdays-Sundays, Sept. 6-30, at the Cumming Playhouse, 101 School Street. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8 p.m., while Sunday performances begin at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30, or $27.50 for seniors or students, veterans, and groups of 25 or more. They can be purchased at www.playhousecumming.com or by calling (770) 781-9178.