Jones County churches serve as stage for JCJC Theater department’s Smoke on the Mountain

Written By: Teresa Martin
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Date Submitted: 2013-02-15 17:09:14

ELLISVILLE – If you’ve ever been to a Saturday Night Gospel sing in the South then you’ll be familiar with Jones County Junior College’s spring musical theater production of Smoke on the Mountain. The show will be presented for the community on Saturday, March 2, at 7 p.m. at Shelton Baptist Church in Moselle and on Sunday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at Pathway Community Church in Laurel (near Northeast Jones High School).  Tickets are $10 each and will be available in advance in the JCJC Fine Arts office and/or from a cast member. No tickets are available at the door and seats are limited.
“We are doing something quite different this year with the musical.  Instead of having a large scale show in our 1300 seat auditorium, we are doing a small, more intimate show that caters to the tastes and history of our community,” said JCJC musical producer, Nikki Johnson.  “The two Jones County churches are on opposite ends of the county, and will host the performances in their sanctuaries. Also, the students are playing their own instruments so this is the first time that we will not have professional musicians backing up our singers. We’ve had to undo some of the classical training our student performers have learned in voice and choir.”
Hattiesburg’s Joe Van Zandt, who is the only non-JCJC student in the play, portrays the character of Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe. The regular performer in Hattiesburg’s HCLO productions and a board member for the theatrical group plays the young and enthusiastic minister of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church who enlists the Sanders Family out of retirement in his efforts to bring his tiny congregation into “the modern world.”  In high school, Van Zandt played the leader of the Sanders Family band, Burl Sanders and said he was excited to delve in to the character of the preacher this time around. According to Johnson, this play tells the story of a Saturday night Gospel Sing at a country church in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1938 and features two dozen rousing bluegrass songs, which is nostalgic for Johnson as well.
“This music takes me back to my childhood and my musical roots.  My family would gather in my grandparents’ living room and play the old hymns from shape-note books while singing in 4-part harmony.  Exposing my students to this style of old-fashioned southern sacred music has been deeply rewarding.  They have fallen in love with it and I couldn't be more pleased with the work they've done.  I’m blessed to work with the most talented, intelligent, and humorous students on campus!  I can’t wait to see the endearing characters of this show steal the hearts of our community,” said Johnson.
Guest directing the play with Johnson is Rob Mulholland. This is the sixth JCJC musical the two have worked on together, and Johnson adds they make a great team.Originally from the northeast, but living in Mississippi for the last 20 years, Mulholland said he knew this play would be a hit.
“From the first time I read Smoke on the Mountain, I knew it was a perfect match for folks who grew up with that experience and those, like me, who did not.   It has hilarious recognizable characters and many old familiar songs and some you won't know. The talented cast pulls it off with great finesse,” said Mulholland.
The uncle of the Sanders bunch, Stanley Sanders is played by Josh Crosby of Ellisville. Crosby’s character is one of the seven performers in the traveling group which is the focus of the play, as they try to return to the stage after a five-year hiatus. Singing isn’t a problem for Crosby but learning how to play the bass has been a challenge.
“It’s definitely been a new experience for me.  I’ve been in numerous shows before, but this is the first one I’ve been in where I actually had to learn to play an instrument for the show.  Learning how to play the upright bass and singing has been challenging but I’ve had a blast doing it!” said Crosby.
The Sanders Family singers are made up of the leader, Burl Sanders who is played by Monticello’s Austin Davis; his wife, Vera Sanders is played by Kristie Reddoch of Hebron; Crosby portrays Burl’s brother, Stanley Sanders; Moselle’s Laci Wynn is the oldest sibling, June Sanders; twins Dennis Sanders and Denise Sanders are played by Petal’s Dustin Bryant and Lucedale’s Hillary Smith. The character Patience Mildred Irene is played by Patience Coats of Gitano. She plays the piano for the group and is a cousin to Burl. Other cast members include the disgruntled congregation members Mrs. Maude and Mrs. Myrtle who are portrayed by Kelsey Martin of Sylvarena, and Reed West of Ellisville. West is also the stage manager and Martin has taken on the additional duties of production assistant. The entire cast said they have enjoyed this unique learning and performing opportunity.
“Being in Smoke on the Mountain has been a blast! It's been tough at times and definitely a lot of work, but I've enjoyed every minute of it. I've loved getting to know my character and the other actors in the process. It has been very rewarding and I know that so many people are going to love this show,” said Davis.
Between songs, each family member “witnesses” or tells 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. By the evening’s end, the Sanders Family has endeared themselves to us by revealing their weaknesses and allowing us to share in their triumphs.  For more information on directions to the performances at the two churches or ticket information, call the JCJC Fine Arts Department at 601-477-4094.            


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