‘Smoke on the Mountain’ engages audience with gospel music and onstage antics

Those who venture into the New Covenant United Church of Christ may wonder why its sanctuary resembles a Southern Baptist Church from the late 1930’s.

The reason is simply that the UCC sanctuary, 202 E. Third St., has been transformed into the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church to accommodate “Smoke On the Mountain.”

Anyone looking for lots of old time Gospel music blended in with the hilarious antics of the Sanctified Sanders Singers will find their prayers answered in “Smoke On the Mountain.”

Shows are scheduled at 7 p.m. on Nov. 17, 18 and a 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 19. (For an additional price, a pre-show Southern-styled dinner at 5 p.m. is available for those attending the Nov. 18 performance.)

In 1939, a fidgety, young pastor invites The Sanders Family to bring a gospel revival to the rural, North Carolina church. But when they arrive, lugging their instruments, there’s more music and mayhem that the Pastor bargains for.

Jacquie Engel directs this production, and also plays the Sanders’ matriarch.

“I have loved this show since 2004, and think that I’m finally old enough to play Vera,” said Engel. 2004 was the year that Engel musically directed “Smoke ..” for the Millbrook Playhouse.

This production is a fundraiser for Journey House, a comprehensive residence program to help displaced families get back on their feet. “Journey House is an incredible program, and we’re glad to make their 10th year celebration even more special,” Engel said.

When Millbrook reprised “Smoke On the Mountain” a few summers ago, Aubrey Potash was cast as the signing daughter June. Now in the upcoming production, she plays the outspoken Denise — one of the Sanders’ twins — and Potash is excited to share Denise’s “comical but very endearing story.”

“The gospel/bluegrass inspired songs in the score will be very familiar to many people … and that the Sanders’ family accompany themselves without an extra pit is definitely be one of the highlights of the show,” Potash said.

With Engel as the mother accompanying the family on the piano, Steve Hulslander plays Burl, the father playing his guitar, recalling an incident at a gasoline station involving a salesman and Nehi soda pop.

Burl’s brother Stanley is played by Greg Kohler, who strums his banjo, and confesses to his life on the chain gang.

As Denise, Potash plays percussion, while Tim Hippensteel is her fraternal twin brother Dennis, a budding preacher, who plays bass.

Melissa Mabus plays the silent June, who doesn’t sing, but is adept at interpretive signing for those in need.

Trying to maintain a semblance of sanity in the sanctuary is Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe, with Andrew Druckenmiller playing the frazzled Pastor.

In between each Sanders’ personal recollections are old tyme gospel hymns and bluegrass ditties, including “I’ll Fly Away,” “A Wonderful Time Up There,” “Bringing In the Sheaves,” “Whispering Hope,” “Jesus Is Mine” and for some chuckles “Christian Cowboy.”

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s “Smoke On the Mountain,” Engel promises a rompin,’ stompin’, fun-filled, bluegrass, gospel celebration.

Tickets are available at the church office (9 a.m. to noon, weekdays), and at the door.

For more information, call 570-326-3308 or visit newcovenantucc.tick etleap.com/Smoke.