SCT's "Smoke On The Mountain" was a smashing success

Starkville Community Theatre’s latest musical, “Smoke On The Mountain,” was the theatre’s first indoor performance since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, Starkville Community Theatre (SCT) put on a production of "Smoke on the Mountain." This was their first indoor performance since 2019. Over the course of the pandemic, they were able to produce multiple outdoor events and other smaller productions. However, it has been a long time since they were able to perform in the traditional sense and they were eager to get back on stage after so long.

"Smoke on the Mountain" is a clever play set in a country church in the Smoky Mountains in 1938. The Sanders family, a traveling family band, is leading a hymn sing at this little church, with the assistance of the pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, the young, enthusiastic Reverend Oglethorpe. Throughout the play, the family sings a variety of bluegrass songs and "witnesses" to the crowd in between each song. 

Pattye Archer was the director of "Smoke on the Mountain." She has been involved with SCT for about 25 years. 

"This show is a laugh-a-minute from the start to the time that it ends," Archer said. "My face hurts at the end of rehearsals because they're just so funny. It is kind of heartwarming and funny at the same time. It will cheer you up if you need cheering up."

The audience was certainly cheered up throughout the show. The cast had everyone in tears with their comedic facial expressions and hilarious antics. There were no moments where an actor was not doing something, whether it was singing in the center of the stage or creating an awkward romantic scene on stage left during a hymn. 

The characters include: Reverend Oglethorpe, June Sanders (the daughter), Burl Sanders (the father), Vera Sanders (the mother), Denise Sanders and Dennis Sanders (the twins) and Stanley Sanders (Burl's brother). 

Bob Swanson, who played Reverend Oglethorpe, is a first-time performer of SCT. He was also involved in some plays prior to moving to Starkville.

Swanson and his family moved to Starkville in 2019 right before the pandemic. Since COVID-19 caused extracurricular activities to cease for a while, it was hard for them to get plugged into the community. SCT offered Swanson a new community to bond with.

"I enjoy theater people," Swanson said. "This has been a good foot in the door for me and it has been a great opportunity for me to meet the artistic and theater crowd in Starkville. Those are people I tend to resonate with."

Swanson also writes and performs his own children's songs at libraries. He knows firsthand the energy a live audience brings.

"It's a whole different animal when you are playing with a live audience," Swanson said. "The actors get more out of it. The audience gets more out of it."

The show combined comedy with classical church hymns, and all the music was live. The entire cast sang and played a variety of instruments throughout the show from piano to the triangle. 

All the actors had musical experience. Grif Lippencott, who played Stanley Sanders, played guitar throughout the show and even broke out the banjo a few times.

Lippencott is a senior animal and dairy sciences major at Mississippi State University. He has been playing music since his sophomore year and is always looking to broaden his musical experience. 

"I started on guitar, and then I wanted to do something different. I have always loved listening to banjo music, so I started playing banjo. It has been about four years since I started playing banjo. It's one of my loves and I do it every chance I get," Lippencott said.

Lippencott even breaks out into a solo during one of the musical numbers. He wrote the piece himself. Like Swanson, this is Lippencott's first production with SCT. In fact, besides some plays in early childhood and a little bit of involvement in tech and crew in high school, this is Lippencott's first role in the cast of a play.

Lippencott performed his part well and brought a quieter, yet still humorous, character to the stage amongst the colorful and loud Sanders family. 

SCT performed "Smoke on the Mountain" in 2006 as well. Madeline Golden played Vera Sanders, the mother, in both the 2006 production as well as the 2021 production. She was able to reprise her original role once again.

This play was also performed in 2003, and three of the cast members from the 2003 cast reprised their roles for the 2021 production. Krista Vowell, who played June, Madeline Golden, who played Vera Sanders and Paul Ruff, who played Burl Sanders, were all on stage in the same roles they played years ago. While every actor believably assumed their role, it was evident that these three loved their characters, and that their roles fit them like an old glove. 

The entire cast did a phenomenal job. They were constantly performing, even when they did not have the spotlight. The play itself was hilarious and engaging. The combination of live music and live theater was a great opening show for SCT's current season. 

"If you missed the show, tough luck, it's been a great time," Lippencott said. "People have been talking about it and people will probably keep talking about it."

Starkville Community Theatre has offered its own little pocket of Broadway in Starkville's own downtown area. They have been putting on shows since 1978. SCT's goal is to provide an outlet for creativity for the Starkville community. They want their actors and audiences to be enraptured by imagination, and to let their creative juices flow. 

"The theater is our home away from home," Archer said. "It is great that the community has a theater, and we are proud to be a part of such a strong art scene."

SCT welcomes actors of all ages to perform. To find out how to get involved with SCT or to see what productions they are putting on next, visit their website or visit the theater at 108 East Main Street. 

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