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Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre continues it’s 2015 season with Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming, a sequel production of the original Smoke on the Mountain, which was done here in 2013. Written by Connie Ray, as conceived by Alan Bailey with musical arrangements by Mike Carver, this edition again relates the story of the singing Sanders Family. This time it is 1945, the war is over and Rev.  Mervin Oglethorpe has married June Sanders. He has received a calling to lead a church in West Texas. So the family is gathering for one final sing at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in rural North Carolina.

The Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe (John Vessels) at top in center with his wife, June (Sarah Hund), sings with the Sanders Family (from left) Denise (Christina Rose Rahn), Dennis (Will Boyajian), Vera (Pam Pendleton), Stanley (Brian Gunter) and Burl (Bob Payne)

The Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe (John Vessels) at top in center with his wife, June (Sarah Hund), sings with the Sanders Family (from left) Denise (Christina Rose Rahn), Dennis (Will Boyajian), Vera (Pam Pendleton), Stanley (Brian Gunter) and Burl (Bob Payne)

Kristy Templet takes on the musical direction and Jeff Stockberger repeats as director, while several of his performers from the 2013 show have returned for this production. The inimitable John Vessels again plays the high-flying Reverend Oglethorpe. Vessels’ marvelous talent for both comedy and song leads the action as his excitable Oglethorpe deals with his great move into the unknown. Sarah Hund returns as June Sanders (now Oglethorpe), the non-singing member of the group. Ms. Hund, whose character is now 8 months pregnant, is wonderful as she goofily provides sign language for some of the songs the family performs and adds she own special quirky rhythm talents to many of the others. Pam Pendleton recreates her role as the matriarchal Vera Sanders. Ms. Pendleton’s diversity shows in her talent for vocals and for playing most every instrument on stage (and there are many) as well as showing precise comic timing in her acting chores. Happily, Brian Gunter also repeats his spot-on portrayal of Stanley Sanders, the wayward brother/uncle in the group. Gunter’s convincing and well-crafted portrayal has wowed me both times I have seen him onstage. He seems to walk right out of the 1940s as he conveys Stanley’s troubled path in life.

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Director Stockberger has maintained this high level of versatility and expertise with the addition of several new members to the cast. Stage veteran Bob Payne joins the group as Burl Sanders, the leader of the family singers. Payne also shows many instrumental and vocal skills and his strongly defined character brings a grounding presence to the proceedings – which sometimes teeter on mild mayhem. His twin children Denise and Dennis are played by B&B newcomers Christina Rose Rahn and Will Boyajian. Both handle their roles and the necessary musical skills with aplomb, and both have great voices. Ms. Rahn has fun with actions that concern her never seen offstage twin boys, while Boyajian is very engaging as he tells Dennis’ inspiring battlefield memories.

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When I reviewed this show’s partner production two years ago, I started out by defining the word versatility. It’s a term that can be used repeatedly to describe this cast’s work on stage. About 20 or so instruments are played, some by most everyone in the cast and the songs are uplifting and expertly done. The result is a rousing, feel-good, toe-tapping, hand-clapping and pleasantly stimulating good time. The standing ovation which this group received was a well-deserved display of the audience’s appreciation for having been so thoroughly entertained.

I can’t leave out Chef Odell Ward’s fine buffet offerings, nor the great B&B staff, as these are certainly a large part of the enjoyment of coming to Beef and Boards.

Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming continues through August 16th. You call find out all you need to know about dates, times and tickets by visiting the website at http://www.beefandboards.com or by calling 317-872-9664.

* – Photos by Julie Curry

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