'Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming' to open Friday at The Grand Theatre
by Marie Nesmith
Sep 14, 2011 | 2656 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Karen Ruetz, from left, Bill Brown and Terri Cox rehearse a scene from “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.”
Karen Ruetz, from left, Bill Brown and Terri Cox rehearse a scene from “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.” SPECIAL
Through "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming," theater patrons will be able to revisit Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church and catch up with the happenings of the Sanders Family Singers. Penned by Connie Ray, the toe-tapping, hand-clapping comedy is a continuation of a story line from an earlier StageWorks production.

"We had such a good reception from the public, when we did it two years ago that we decided to do this sequel and see if we could get people out to see it again. ... It was the same set up the first time we did the first show in 2009, and it's the same characters," said Leslie McCrary, co-founder of StageWorks and director of "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming," which opens Friday. "Some of them enter through the audience, so the audience is pulled into the play from the very first moment.

"Everything is set up the same -- the same set, the same little church. Everything's the same but they all have different stories now. The son has already been away to war and is back from the second world war and he's going to take over being minister and the daughter's married and has twins. The characters are all the same. It's just 10 years later, and it reflects everything that has happened to them in the 10 years."

To be performed at The Grand Theatre in downtown Cartersville, "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming" will be presented Friday and Saturday and Sept. 23 and 24, all at 7 p.m. The nine-member cast will include Bill Brown as Burl Sanders, Terri Cox as Vera Sanders, Brian McLeod as Stanley Sanders, Mike Davis as Dennis Sanders, Stacey Bern as Denise Sanders Culperrer, Karen Ruetz as June Sanders Ogelthorpe, Will Brooks as Mervin Ogelthorpe, Corinne Scott as Miss Myrtle and Patti Holladay as Miss Maude.

"The Sanders Family Singers [are] a gospel group from western North Carolina," McCrary said. "This play takes place in 1948. There's a father and a mother, Burl and Vera Sanders. His sister June has married the minister, [Mervin], of the little church where they sang in the first play. It's [set at] Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church and Mervin and June are getting ready to leave the church and go to Texas to start a new church, and she just happens to be expecting their first child any minute. So we deal with sympathetic pregnancy and her trying to play instruments in her condition. So it's a lot of fun.

"There is a lot of singing. It's supposed to be a signing at the church, so the audience is considered part of the congregation. So they talk to the audience and sing with the audience, and the audience is considered part of the show. Usually you never break that fourth wall but in this instance with them being part of the audience, it's a lot of fun. They can make all the noise they want to make in the audience, and the actors are able to talk to them and encourage them to join in the songs."

For Ruetz, who is reviving her role of June, the opportunity to interact with the audience is an exhilarating experience.

"It's a lot of fun because you get a lot of energy from how the audience reacts," Ruetz said, adding her character is known for her creative delivery of sign language. "The old ladies in the show get to do a little reacting with the audience too because they're kind of an extension of the audience but they're also characters in the show and they're on-stage.

"So that makes it a lot of fun. It takes you back to the old days of what it was like to be in a simple life and be in a church, kind of that good family feel of everybody singing. And you get interested in the songs and [we] start clapping, trying to get people clapping," she said, recalling the first play's audience eagerly participated. "I still have people even now who see me out in other places who will say, 'Oh, I remember you. You did the lamb thing,' because that was one of [June's] creative sign language things was the word for lamb. I hopped all the way across the stage, and people still remember that. So you can tell them there'll be something just as fun this time that they'll be sure to remember."

Tickets for "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming" are $18 and can be reserved by calling The Grand Theatre at 770-386-7343.