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'Smoke on the Mountain — Homecoming' now at Derby Dinner

August 20, 2008
If you like good, old-fashioned gospel music — raise your hand. If you like to laugh — raise your other hand. If you like to see a really good play every once in a while — raise your well, your left foot. Now — if you're tired of standing around on one leg with your hands up in the air, head to Derby Dinner Playhouse and check out "Smoke on the Mountain — Homecoming." You'll be glad you did.

Pictured, from left, are Bill Hanna as Dennis Sanders, Cary Wiger as the Rev. Oglethorpe and Rita Thomas as Vera Sanders in Derby Dinner Playhouse's "Smoke on the Mountain — Homecoming." The play will be presented through Sept. 28. (Photo Courtesy of Derby Dinner Playhouse)
This is one of the most endearing and funny plays that Derby Dinner has had in a while. If you've ever been to a small country church, you'll be able to relate to the Sanders family and the Rev. Oglethorpe.

The play takes place in 1945, just after the war has ended, in Mount Pleasant, N.C.. The Sanders family is together once again, the boys are home from the war and this is the first time they have performed since the war began.

Burl Sanders (John Payonk) and his wife Vera (Rita Thomas) have welcomed the Rev. Melvin Oglethorpe (Cary Wiger) into the family. Married to their daughter, June, who is pregnant, Oglethorpe announces that he has a new job, preaching at a church in Texas and will be leaving the Blue Ridge Mountains. Noting that he's going to "ride the range for Jesus," "lasso me some sinners" and do some "gunslinging for the Lord," Oglethorpe turns the pulpit over to his brother-in-law, Dennis (Bill Hanna).

Directed by Bekki Jo Schneider, the play is woven around several hymns that are sure to bring back memories of days gone by — "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," "Standing on the Promises," "The Royal Telephone," "Shall We Gather at the River," "Do Lord" and many others. The second song of the play, "Gloryland Boogie," is so well done that you can hardly stay in your seat. Like most of the songs in the play, the music and harmonies make your feet want to move and your toes want to tap.

Southern Indiana's Rita Thomas has found her calling in this play. Her vocals and portrayal of Vera Sanders is flawless. And Cary Wiger, John Payonk, Tina Jo Wallace, Janet Essenpreis, Robert Shaw and Bill Hanna take you to the little mountain church, making you forget, if only for a little while, that you're still in a theater.

The Footnotes, the musical group that opens every show at Derby Dinner, performed a series of John Denver songs, including "Country Road" and "Grandma's Featherbed," highlighting the immense talent that makes the group so popular with the audience.

So, make a call for reservations, and make a trip to a little church in the Blue Ridge Mountains. You'll still be grinning when you get back home.

Remember, every ticket comes with a great buffet dinner.

Derby Dinner Playhouse is located at 525 Marriott Drive (across from Tom Stinnett RV) in Clarksville. Call 1-812-288-8281 for reservations. "Smoke on the Mountain — Homecoming" will run until Sept. 28.

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