Smoke on the Mountain: Inspiration just down the road in Winchester
BY KIM THOMAS
The New York Post calls “Smoke on the Mountain’ “totally beguiling…foot-stomping soul food.”
I call it Spring Cleaning for the Soul. Ever since I first saw this show a year ago, I have been anxiously awaiting another chance to see it. The rollicking musical is a perfect fit for the new Leeds Theatre in nearby Winchester.
It’s a great message, that we are all children of God, we all are redeemed and forgiven and have our own spiritual truth to tell!
‘Smoke on the Mountain’ tells the story of a Saturday Night Gospel Sing at a small country church in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains in 1938.
The name of the musical comes from Psalm 104:32: “He who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.” “Smoke” centers on a gospel-sing set in 1938 in a country Baptist church in North Carolina. Called a “cornpone Chorus Line,” by Variety, Smoke will be presented by Off Main troupe, which has taken the show from Woodford to Lexington to Lancaster and garnered growing popularity with each performance.
Mix the style of a Broadway musical with the story of a Saturday-night gospel sing in a rural church, and this is what you get.
ABOUT THE PLAY
Smoke On The Mountain is near and dear to Pastor Greg Waltermire (Stanley) as he has performed it before in the wildly popular Woodford Theatre production of the musical before bringing it to his own church, Heritage Baptist last year. He then appeared in the successful Lancaster staging, and now the folks close to Winchester will have pleasure of enjoying this delightful breath of fresh musical air.
Smoke on the Mountain tells the story of a Saturday Night Gospel Sing at a country church in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1938. The show features two dozen rousing bluegrass songs played and sung by the Sanders Family, a traveling group making its return to performing after a five-year hiatus.
Pastor Oglethorpe, the young and enthusiastic minister of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, has enlisted the Sanders Family in his efforts to bring his tiny congregation into “the modern world.” Between songs, each family member “witnesses” — telling 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.
Kelsey Waltermire, who is a Governor’s Scholar and attends SCAPA, tells me this is her father’s deja vu-dream-come-true. “Dad, Millie, and Evan were all in the show at Woodford, and Dad absolutely fell in love with it, and it has been his dream to be in it again. They tried a couple of times to get the ball rolling, but it never quite worked. Dad really wanted to do it…so he bought the rights himself! And decided we would do it at our very own church last year. A couple of men from the church helped building the set and making instruments, and some even played instruments in the show.”
Reverend Waltermire had such a great experience with the shows at Woodford, Heritage and Lancaster, he brings a sense of refreshed expectation to this production. “We are not starting from a blank slate, but we are not seeking to duplicate every nuance of previous shows either. I enjoyed the chemistry between all the cast members in all the shows, and we are experiencing that same sense of unity with this cast.” Waltermire will be playing the role of Stanley, who he describes as “the black sheep of the Sanders family.”
“Stanley, as a part of the Sanders family, does sing solos, trios, quartets, as whole-family songs. He plays guitar throughout the show, with one brief chorus on the piano. In practice, I have experimented with some limited banjo, as well but doubt that I will have the courage to actually play it,” he jokes.
Waltermire has enjoyed every minute of this project “because of the people I am working with; these are not just cast members and musicians, they are good friends and, in fact, all four of my daughters.” (Note: Daughter Courtney is overseeing the Leeds presentation as Director as well as playing her character.)
Greg is quick to credit others who’ve helped make this holy hoe-down happen and continue to please the growing congregations who flock to see and hear the comical way the music is woven into the fabric of the show. Waltermire says, “I have been so gratified to have personal friends who were willing to help behind the scenes. They have been the ones who are in charge of set design, prop construction, painting, and event management. I have seen in my experience what ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ can do—it brings people together.”
Reverend Waltermire, his entire family, cast & crew are putting in an effort to make this a rousing revival of gatherings and songs that inspire the warmth of faith and family. Take Mom (or Grandpa) and the whole family to see this show – you will be singing the songs for weeks! Some of the funniest moments are “at the end of the first act, when Brother Oglethorpe (played by GB Dixon) goes ballistic because there is choreography in the song — Dancing in a Baptist Church!” laughs Waltermire.
Presented by Off Main Actors Group at Leeds Center for the Arts.
SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN
April 8 – 17 at Leeds Center for the Arts; 37 North Main Street Winchester, Kentucky. Tickets are available at www.leedscenter.org/event/smoke-on-the-mountain.
ABOUT THE LEEDS THEATRE
The Leeds Theatre opened in 1925, in downtown Winchester, named in a contest after its owner, S.D. Lee (by moving around the letters of his name). It was one one of the earliest buildings in Winchester to have air-conditioning. The Leeds Theatre operated as one of the city’s four movie houses until 1986 when it closed, due to a decline in both attendance and the general upkeep of the theater.
Soon after the Leeds’ closing, the Winchester Council for the Arts was formed with the goal of bringing the performing arts to Winchester and restoring the old theater to its original appearance. After four years of fundraising, the WCA did purchase the Leeds Theatre and restore and renovate it for over $1.5 million.
It was reopened in 1990 as the Leeds Center for the Arts. New lighting and sound equipment was installed, a new and larger stage was built, and the interior was painted to replicate the original color scheme of 1925. The stunning Art Deco marquee with its rainbow colors was relit and has ever since welcomed visitors coming to see the plays, musicals, concerts and other various performing arts events which the theater hosts. Classic movies are screened on the third Sunday over every month.
The Leeds Theatre was featured in a 1998 painting by artist Davis Cone, showing the marquee at night, and can be seen in the 2001 book, “Popcorn Palaces.”
This article also appears on page 7 of the April 2016 printed edition of the Hamburg Journal.
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