A ‘Corn Pone Chorus Line’: Smoke on the Mountain at Heritage Baptist on N. Ashland
BY KIM THOMAS
In a quandary for a sweet Mother’s Day gift? Take Mom to see this rollicking musical presented by the Off Main Actors Group, with a number of Lexington’s finest performers singing and presenting Smoke On The Mountain, performing over two dozen gospel and bluegrass classics at Heritage Baptist Church in the historic North Ashland neighborhood.
The name of the musical comes from Psalm 104:32: “He who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.” “Smoke” centers on a gospel-sing set in 1938 in a country Baptist church in North Carolina. Called a “cornpone Chorus Line,” by Variety, Smoke On The Mountain will be presented May 8, 9 and 10th here.
Mix the style of a Broadway musical with the story of a Saturday-night gospel sing in a rural church, and this is what you get.
ABOUT THE PLAY
Greg Waltermire is bringing the musical to Heritage Baptist Church on North Ashland, where he serves as Senior Pastor. The show is near and dear to Pastor Waltermire as he has performed before in the wildly popular Woodford Theatre production of the musical.
His family of wonder-girls (Caitlyn, Courtney, Kelsey and Kaylee) much of the Woodford cast, and some of his faithful have joined hands, gathered their spirits and talents to present this show Mother’s Day weekend.
Smoke on the Mountain tells the story of a Saturday Night Gospel Sing at a country church in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1938. The show features two dozen rousing bluegrass songs played and sung by the Sanders Family, a traveling group making its return to performing after a five-year hiatus.
Pastor Oglethorpe, the young and enthusiastic minister of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, has enlisted the Sanders Family in his efforts to bring his tiny congregation into “the modern world.” Between songs, each family member “witnesses” — telling a story about an important event in their life. Though they try to appear perfect in the eyes of a congregation who wants to be inspired by their songs, one thing after another goes awry and they reveal their true — and hilariously imperfect —natures.
Kelsey Waltermire, who just was named a Governor’s Scholar knows this is her father’s deja vu-dream-come-true. “Dad, Millie, and Evan were all in the show at Woodford, and Dad absolutely fell in love with it, and it has been his dream to be in it again. They tried a couple of times to get the ball rolling, but it never quite worked. Dad really wanted to do it…so he bought the rights himself! And decided we would do it at our very own church. A couple of men from the church have helped building the set and making instruments, and some are even playing instruments in the show.”
Reverend Waltermire had such a great experience with the show at Woodford, and brings a sense of expectation to this production. “We are not starting from a blank slate, but we are not seeking to duplicate every nuance of that show either. I enjoyed the chemistry between all the cast members at Woodford and we are experiencing that same sense of unity with this cast.” Waltermire will be playing the role of Stanley, who he describes as “the black sheep of the Sanders family.”
“Stanley, as a part of the Sanders family, does sing solos, trios, quartets, as whole-family songs. He plays guitar throughout the show, with one brief chorus on the piano. In practice, I have experimented with some limited banjo, as well but doubt that I will have the courage to actually play it,” he jokes.
Waltermire has enjoyed every minute of this project “because of the people I am working with; these are not just cast members and musicians, they are good friends and, in fact, all four of my daughters.” (Note: youngest daughter Kaylee was stage-managing until recently cast in Georgetown Theatre’s Pride & Prejudice; now the eldest, Caitlyn is overseeing the presentation.)
Greg is quick to credit others who’ve helped make this holy hoe-down happen. “I have been so gratified to have personal friends at Heritage Baptist who have been willing to help behind the scenes. They have been the ones who are in charge of set design, prop construction, painting, and event management. I have seen in my experience what ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ can do—it brings people together.”
KELSEY WALTERMIRE is playing the role of Denise Sanders and sings solos, duets, trios, and with the group as a whole. She says “The show is hilarious without being too cheesy, heartfelt without being too sappy, and incredibly catchy.”
EVAN SULLIVAN is playing the part of Mervin Oglethorpe, the new pastor of Mt Pleasant Baptist Church. Having appeared in the Woodford production alongside the Waltermire clan, Sullivan points out, “I’ve actually been fortunate to bring Mervin to life in three separate performances. The first was about six years ago at Studio Players. Mervin and I have really bonded. He’s always been a special character to me. Now that I have a
chance to take on the role again, I’m loving the challenge of trying to find something new and different to the character than I have in previous performances.”
COURTNEY WALTERMIRE is playing June Sanders. “It would be so easy for her to be discontented with her lot in life: her sister is prettier, her whole family is incredibly talented, all she does is ding on the triangle, and no one even knows what she is signing…but her realization of her spiritual gift of listening is exactly what everyone needs to hear.”
MILLIE HAMILTON was in the show at Woodford, portraying the same character, Vera Sanders, the matriarch of the Sanders Family. She says that for her, “the role of Vera was/is a dream come true. I had been out of the theatre scene for about 27 years before returning as a middle-aged female in 2008. I was getting a lot of chorus parts, but as we all know, good roles for middle-aged women are few and far between. Being offered the role of Vera in 2012 was incredible!” Hamilton “was blessed to be able to work with the cast on that show (two of which are reprising their roles in this production). Theatre is a hobby for me; I have had no formal training. Basically everything I’ve learned about theatre, I’ve learned from the various directors and cast members who’ve coached me over the years. The cast at Woodford, for the most part, were a seasoned group of very talented people and I learned a lot from them. Three years later, I was approached to reprise the role of Vera; needless to say, I jumped at the chance.”
CALEB LEONARD wasn’t in the Woodford production. “This is my first time with the piece, and I am playing the role of Dennis, the younger of the twins.” Leonard says the most difficult aspect of playing the role of Dennis is that it clashes with his gregarious personality. “I’m confident no one has ever used the word shy to describe me as a person, so it’s definitely a stretch for my acting.”
GREG JONES is playing Burl for this show. Jones says for him, the challenge is learning the the two dozen plus tunes and music. “There are twenty-some songs, many as part of harmony.”
He too agrees that the funniest moments are “at the end of the first act, when Brother Oglethorpe (played by Evan Sullivan) goes ballistic because there is choreography in the song — Dancing in a Baptist Church!”
Reverend Waltermire, his entire family and Heritage Baptist friends are putting in an effort to make this a rousing, revival of gatherings and songs that inspire the warmth of faith and family. Take Mom (or Grandpa) and the whole family to see this show – you will be singing the songs for weeks!
Friday, May 8 at 7 pm
Saturday, May 9 at 7 pm
Sunday, May 10 at 2 pm
Heritage Baptist Church is at 163 North Ashland Avenue.
This article appears on pages 11 of the May 2015 print issue of Ace.
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