There’s a bit of a time warp going on at the Lincoln Cultural Center these days. Production of “Sanders Family Christmas,” which is a sequel to the bluegrass gospel musical “Smoke on the Mountain,” has been ongoing. Despite being a Christmas-themed show, it’s opening this Friday, in July. It was supposed to have opened last December, but COVID restrictions put a stop to that.
The time warp is really evident in that “Sanders Family Christmas” was performed at the Lincoln Cultural Center 25 years ago and several of the actors who were in that production, are back on the stage in this one, playing the same characters.
“Sanders Family Christmas,” which opens this Friday, July 16 is being directed by Martin Reynolds, who was in the original production.
“It’s a story of a little mountain family in North Carolina,” he said. “It’s set in 1941, a few weeks after Pearl Harbor had been bombed. The youngest son is going into the Marines, the day after the singing.”
In the story, the Sanders family has been coming to the church in Mount Pleasant for about four years. “Smoke on the Mountain” tells of the first time the family comes to the church. The preacher, Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe, played by Charlie Reep is “sparking” the oldest Sanders daughter, June, played by Cathy Davis.
“That’s the country saying for going together,” Reynolds said. “Here’s the fun of this show, we did this 25 years ago and I played the father of the family. I’ve done ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ about eight times. I tried to cast a lot of the cast members that did it 25 years ago. Twenty-five years ago, we were the right age. This is our 40th anniversary of the Theatre Guild so we’re trying to go back and do some of the older shows.”
Paige Rice plays Denise, twin to Dennis, the youngest boy who’s going off to war, who’s played by Joey Nuhfer. Rice had the part of Denise in the production 25 years ago. The person who plays Denise is supposed to be in her twenties, according to Reynolds.
“Joey’s like 25 and I’m 54 so this is real theater,” Rice said. “This is one of my favorite roles. We’re like a big old family now. We’ve rehearsed and fussed and fought like real family. I love this cast.”
Rice is the oldest of the twins by four minutes (or so, remember the time warp).
“Denise is a modern woman,” Rice said. “She ran off from home down to Charlotte to try to be Scarlett O’Hara but she didn’t make it. She’s naive but she’s worldly too. They’re afraid for me to get up and witness because they never know what I’m going to say.”
This is the first time Rice has been on the stage since the “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” where she played the owner of the “Chicken Ranch,” Miss Mona. Needless to say, in “Sanders Family Christmas,” Rice gets her witnessing in.
The youngest in the cast, Nuhfer, a graduate of East Lincoln High School and Appalachian State University, is no stranger to the stage at the Cultural Center. He hasn’t been in any of the past productions involving the Sanders Family.
“My character enlisted,” he said. “He’s very patriotic and supportive of the war effort. He doesn’t think that war is something to be scared of. He thinks that God created war and just like God called him to preach, he just became a preacher, God told him to do battle.”
While the theme sounds serious, Nuhfer added, his character is really lighthearted and goofy.
The senior member of the cast, Reep, who in real life is an ordained minister via education, is doing a repeat performance as Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe.
“I started doing shows when I turned 40,” he said. “This is the fourth time I’ve played Mervin. I did ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ three times. He’s a relatively young preacher, this is his first church. He’s a little bit enamored with the Sanders family being gospel singers. He’s especially enamored with Stanley (played by Mike Wirth) because he’s going off to Hollywood. The pastor in this is really the facilitator making sure the show keeps going, but sometimes he likes to chime in himself and gets to sing a little bit. It’s a fun character.”
This is a musical comedy with more than 30 different songs included in the show. There’s an excellent bluegrass band that accompanies the singing.
So, as Mike Wirth explains it, it’s Christmas in July, a celebration of a new season and a celebration of breaking free from COVID.
“We wanted to do something good for the audience that they’d enjoy,” he said. “It’s got Christmas songs, some military songs and some family gospel songs.”
“Sanders Family Christmas” opens on Friday, July 16 at 7 p.m. Additional showings are Saturday, July 17 at 7 p.m., Sunday, July 18 at 3 p.m., Friday, July 23 at 7 p.m., Saturday, July 24 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, July 25 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students. They’re available at the Cultural Center or online at lincolntg.booktix.com
Director: Martin Reynolds
Music Director: Mike Sisk
Lights: Teresa Greene and Cristina Schmidt
Concessions: Holly Mcginnis and Hollen Carpenter
Box Office: Lori Wise
Rev. Mervin Oglethorpe: Charlie Reep
Burl: Neil Underwood
Vera: Joanna Underwood
Stanley: Michael Wirth
June: Cathy Davis
Denise: Paige Rice
Dennis: Joey Nuhfer
The Patriarchs of the church:
Myrtle: Cindy Reynolds
Maude: Denise Mccoy
Piano: Mike Sisk
Banjo: Max Mckee
Bass: Jason Reynolds
Violin: Helena Hoyle