Archive for August, 2011

Season Ticket KICK-OFF (Clarification)

Dear Plaza Fans,

As you may be aware, next week (September 5th and 6th) are the annual Season Ticket KICK-OFF dates here at PlazaCo. All current Season Ticket holders (ALL 976 of you) should already have received your 2012 Season Brochure in the mail or here at the theatre. The brochure should give you all the information you need about next year’s exciting productions, ticket pricing (the same as last year) and dates. But there is still a little confusion as to how the KICK-OFF works, so we’re sending this message today to help clarify how the KICK-OFF will be handled this year.

There are three (3) categories of Season Ticket purchases this year. They are:

  1. Current Season Ticket Holders who DO NOT wish to choose specific dates and seats for 2012.
  2. Current Season Ticket Holders who DO wish to choose specific seats and dates for 2012.
  3. NON-Current Season Ticket Holders who wish to purchase PlazaCo Season Tickets for the first time.

Category 1, current Season Ticket Holders who DO NOT wish to choose specific dates and seats for 2012, your options are:

  • Season Tickets are available for you to purchase beginning September 5th at 10am. These tickets are available to those wishing to renew until we’ve reached 1,000 Season Ticket Holders at which time Season Ticket sales will be cut off. We strongly urge current Season Ticket Holders to renew this category of ticket as quickly as possible as we do anticipate selling all 1,000 Season Tickets before the end of 2011.

Category 2, Current Season Ticket Holders who DO wish to choose specific seats and dates for 2012, your options are:

  • Season Tickets are available for you to purchase beginning September 6th at 6:15pm at the official KICK-OFF event. This event will be held at the Plaza Box Office and will feature refreshments and entertainment as well as a numbering system that will help attendees avoid standing in line. These “Now Being Served” tickets will be given to those in attendance in the order of their arrival. We will have 5 stations of Season Ticket processing to help alleviate the demand and make the evening go as quickly as possible. Again, we strongly urge current Season Ticket Holders to renew this category of ticket as quickly as possible as we do anticipate selling all 1,000 Season Tickets before the end of 2011.

Category 3, NON-Current Season Ticket Holders who wish to purchase PlazaCo Season Tickets for the first time, your options are:

  • Season Tickets are available for you to purchase beginning at 10am on October 3rd. The amount of available tickets in this category will depend on the number of renewals which take place before this date, IF tickets are available, you may choose to buy Season Tickets without specific seats and dates, OR Season Tickets with specific seats and dates – your choice. Again, we strongly urge those in this category to purchase as quickly as possible as we do anticipate selling all 1,000 Season Tickets before the end of 2011.

Hopefully, this will clear up any confusion relating to this year’s Season Ticket KICK-OFF event. But if not, feel free to call us at the Box Office and we’ll answer any questions you may have.

The PlazaCo Team

Audition Announcement – ANNIE

Plaza Theatre Company is pleased to announce auditions for it’s upcoming production of ANNIE. The production will be under the direction of Taffy Geisel with Musical Direction by Joey Geisel and Choreography by Tabitha Barrus. The audition is being held here at Plaza Theatre Company on Tuesday September 20th and Wednesday September 21st. Those who choose to audition need only to make an appointment on one of the available two dates. An audition appointment is required for all auditioners. Audition appointments can be made by visiting

Often called ‘America’s Happiest Musical’, Annie tells the story of a spunky red-headed orphan who longs to leave the orphanage and find her real parents. When Billionaire Oliver Warbucks invites Annie to spend Christmas at his mansion, Annie jumps at the chance to find her family, with the help of Warbucks promise of a $50,000 reward of course. But when the drunken Miss Hannigan and her con-artist brother try to make off with the reward money, the good guys win, the bad guys get caught and Annie finds love in the arms of her adopted ‘Daddy’ Warbucks. What musical could be happier than that?


Ages 5 – 15, to look 13 and under.

Should be 5’ tall and under

Dance training not required, but a distinct plus.

Prepare 24 bars of ‘Tomorrow’ or ‘Maybe’ from the Broadway version of ‘Annie.’

Will be asked to improvise a brief situation an orphan might find herself in.

Callbacks will be on Saturday, Sept 24 at 9am. Will include a dance combo. Please wear the same outfit to both auditions. (It is to your advantage to do so)

Roles Available:

Annie – must be able to play an 11 year old
Molly – the tiniest
Possible others


Prepare 24 bars of a Broadway song, in the style of ‘Annie’. It is acceptable to sing a song from the show. Need a strong, creative ensemble, with a variety of heights, builds, ethnicities, and vocal ranges.

Callbacks will be on Saturday, Sept 24 at 9am. Will include cold reads, and possible dance combo

Roles Available –

Miss Hannigan – The orphans’ lying, cheating caretaker
Rooster Hannigan – her felon younger brother
Lily St. Regis – dumb blonde cohort of Rooster
Bundles – the laundry man
Lt. Ward – the local policeman
Daddy Warbucks – millionaire who takes Annie in for Christmas
Grace Farrell – his lovely assistant
Drake the Butler – keeps Warbucks household running
Mrs. Pugh – Warbucks’ household help
Mrs. Greer – Warbucks’ household help
Cecile – Warbucks’ household help
Annette – Warbucks household help
President Roosevelt
His Cabinet –
Harold Ickes
Frances Perkins – female
Cordell Hull
Henry Morganthau
Louis Howe – Roosevelt’s Secret Service Man
Bert Healy – charismatic radio emcee
Jimmy Johnson – the Masked Radio announcer
The Boylen Sisters – three female singers of tight harmony
Fred McCracken
The Sound Effects Person
Apple Seller
Al – a homeless person
Strong Ensemble to play residents of Hooverville, citizens of New York City, other servants
And SANDY, THE DOG. Yep, need a real sandy colored dog – well 2, even the dog may be double cast

Plaza Theatre Company Official Press Release – TREASURE ISLAND

Plaza Theatre Company – PRESS RELEASE

Plaza Theatre Company to present the Robert Louis Stevenson classic TREASURE
ISLAND, opening September 16th

August 24th, 2011

Plaza Theatre Company is proud to announce the opening of TREASURE ISLAND on
September 16th, 2011. The production will play Plaza’s newly renovated theatre at 111
S. Main Street in Cleburne, TX opening September 16th and playing through October 8th,
2011. The show will be the 47th produced by Plaza Theatre Company since it’s inception in
November of 2006.

“Plaza has been open for almost five years and has produced nearly 50 musicals and
comedies”, says G. Aaron Siler, Plaza Co-Producer and Director of TREASURE ISLAND. “But
I can honestly say that Plaza patrons have never seen anything like this. The show will
feature swordfights galore, a live pirate band and adventure on the high seas all in the
intimate confines of Plaza’s theatre-in-the-round setting. TREASURE ISLAND is bound to
become an unforgettable night of theatre for Plaza patrons.”

Based on the masterful adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, TREASURE ISLAND is a
stunning yarn of piracy on the tropical seas. Beginning in England in 1775, the story quickly
becomes an unforgettable tale of treachery and mayhem featuring a host of legendary
swashbucklers. At the center of it all is Jim Hawkins, a 14-year-old boy who longs for
adventure, and the infamous Long John Silver, perhaps the most famous hero-villain of all
time. Silver is an unscrupulous buccaneer-rogue whose greedy quest for gold, coupled with
his affection for Jim, cannot help but win the heart of every soul who has ever longed for
romance, treasure and adventure.

TREASURE ISLAND is under the direction of G. Aaron Siler with Stage Management by Dora
Hunt, Costume design by Tina Barrus, Set design by Milette & Aaron Siler and JaceSon
Barrus, Lighting design by Aaron Siler, Prop design by Milette Siler, and Sound design by
Aaron Siler.

The cast for TREASURE ISLAND is: (double cast where noted)

Actor One – Jim Hawkins……………………………………….Cooper Rodgers
Actor Two – Long John Silver, Jim’s Father………………..Luke Hunt
Actor Three – Captain Flint, Dr. Livesy………………………JaceSon Barrus
Actor Four – Squire Trelawney, The Bailiff………………….Greg Burton
Actor Five – Captain Smollett, Inn Guest……………………Jay Cornils
Actor Six – Rev. Manwaring, Ben Gunn………………………Jonathan Kennedy
Actor Seven – Anne Bonny………………………………………Jill Etheridge / Caroline Rivera
Actor Eight – Mary Read…………………………………………Tabitha Barrus / Jo Anne Gracey
Actor Nine – Blind Pew, Calico Jack…………………………..Aaron Lett
Actor Ten – George Merry, Bailiff’s Son………………………Ray Blanton
Actor Eleven – Jemmy Rathbone, Ezekial Hazard…………Auston McIntosh
Actor Twelve – Billy Bones, Pirate Band……………………..Aaron Siler
Actor Thirteen – Blackdog, Israel Hands…………………….Nathaniel Harper
Actor Fourteen – Tom Morgan, Bristol Sailor………………Devlin Pollock
Actor Fifteen – Justice Death……………………………………A. Solomon Abah
Actor Sixteen – Bristol Dock Begger, Josiah Bland………..Stan Denman
Actor Seventeen – Inn Guest, Bristol Sailor…………………Cody Vernon
Actor Eighteen – Jim’s Mother………………………………….Kristi Taylor
Actor Nineteen – Widow Drews…………………………………Emily Warwick
Actor Twenty – Pirate band lead instrumentalist………….Parker Barrus
Actor Twenty One – Inn Guest, Bristol Docks Girl…………Dora Hunt

TREASURE ISLAND will continue the tradition of featuring a special opening night event.
Those who attend opening night are invited to a special opening night after party with the
cast and crew. Details will be made available to those in attendance.

TREASURE ISLAND will play Plaza Theatre Company from September 16th thru October
8th, 2011 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30pm with Saturday afternoon
matinees at 3pm. A special performance of the show will also be given on Monday
September 19th at 7:30pm in honor of “National Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day”. Ticket prices
are $15 for Adults, $13 for Seniors and Students and $12 for children. Reservations are
recommended and can be made by calling 817-202-0600 or visiting the Plaza Box Office
between the hours of 10am and 6pm Monday thru Saturday.

Today’s FUN Photo – Any Guesses???

Just having some nostalgic fun today y’all. Can you name the production that this photo was taken from? And the names of the two performers? And even more so what the heck is going on here during the show? This production was the last comedy produced in PlazaCo’s first home at 201 S. Main in Cleburne in July of 2008. Ring any bells?

PlazaCo’s 2012 Season Ticket KICK-OFF

Plaza Theatre Company’s 2012 Season of Shows:

Plaza Theatre Company’s 2012 Season Ticket KICK-OFF Event:

2012 promises to be our most amazing season yet at PlazaCo. Our Season of Shows is sure to please every type of taste and pocketbook. Once again, we’ll be offering 10 fantastic shows – and Season Tickets are the best way to get in on all the action. At a 20% discount, as well as first chance at seats and dates, Season Tickets are the best value PlazaCo has to offer.

Our annual Season Ticket KICK-OFF Event is coming up soon. Beginning September 5th, Season Tickets will be available to CURRENT SEASON TICKET HOLDERS ONLY. That means 2011 Season Ticket holders have renewal priority for a full month before tickets are made available to the General Public. Beginning October 3rd, ANYONE can purchase 2012 Season Tickets. We will only be selling 1,000 Season Tickets for 2012, so early renewal is strongly suggested as we anticipate reaching that number before the end of 2011.

The KICK-OFF event will be easier than ever for those planning to renew. For the first time ever, we’ll be kicking off Season Tickets over two different nights. They are:

  • September 5th – Sales begin at 10am for those wishing to renew Season Tickets WITHOUT CHOOSING SPECIFIC SEATS AND DATES.
  • September 6th – Sales begin at 6:30pm for those wishing to renew Season Tickets while choosing specific seats and dates (taken in the order folks arrive). This night will feature refreshments, entertainment and a numbering system as folks arrive so no standing in line will be required.

Following these two events, Season Tickets will continue to available to current Season Ticket holders only through October 3rd at which time they will be made available to the General Public. Again, we highly anticipate reaching 1,000 Season Ticket holders before the end of the year, so early renewal is strongly suggested.

Current Season Ticket holders should have received their 2012 Season Brochure in the mail this week. Please use the brochure to make plans for renewal to help speed up the process at the KICK-OFF. Non-Season Ticket holders who are on the Plaza mailing list will be receiving their Season brochure the 3rd week of September.

We hope you’ll be joining us for this fabulous event, and if not, we hope you’ll consider Season Tickets for 2012. We know it’s going to be an amazing year.

See ya soon.
JTAM ~ JaceSon, Tina, Aaron and Milette

Casting Announcement – Cast List for CRAZY FOR YOU

Here is the official Casting Announcement for Plaza Theatre Company’s upcoming production of CRAZY FOR YOU. The production is under the direction of Jay Lewis with Musical Direction by Soni Barrus and choreography by Courtney Sikora. Rehearsals commence Tuesday August 23rd and continue thru the opening of the show on October 14th. Thank you to all who auditioned and congratulations to the following cast members: (Double-cast where noted)

BOBBY CHILD – Jonathan Metting
POLLY BAKER – Daron Cockerell / Kasi Hollowell
LOTTIE CHILD – Soni Barrus / Barbara Rose
IRENE ROTH – Caitlan Davis / Milette Siler
BELA ZANGLER – Greg Burton
EUGENE FODOR – Jay Cornils
PATRICIA HENRY – Shauna Lewis / Caroline Rivera
HARRY – Cody Vernon
PETE – Jay Lewis

SAM – Aaron Siler
MINGO – Josh Leblo
MOOSE – Jonathan Kennedy

TESS – Rachel Hunt
PATSY – Stefanie Glenn
MITZI -Tabitha Barrus
SUSIE – Cessany Ford
ELAINE – Caitlan Davis / Monica Glenn
LOUISE – Faith Brown / Mary Vickers

The Star Group Newspapers’ Paul Gnadt: “It’s Clear, You’ve Got To See Smoke”

We’ve received our 3rd and final professional review of SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN. And once again the critic is urging theatregoers to put this one on their list of must-see shows. The production plays now thru September 10th and while the remaining shows this weekend are Sold Out – there is still room for the rest of the run of the show. So after you read this stellar review, give our Box Office a call at 817-202-0600 to get those reservations squared away.

Read on:


It’s clear: you’ve got to see ‘Smoke’

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Here’s hoping you get your hands on the hottest tickets in town to see “Smoke on the Mountain,” the current production of the Plaza Theatre Company.

It’s playing through Sept. 10 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

This is not only a fan favorite — “Smoke” is the second-most produced play in regional theaters — it’s a Plaza favorite, too. You can just feel the enthusiastic connection between actors and audience in this musical comedy that, when all is said and sung, is about what really matters: family, forgiveness and faith.

Usually, humor and hymns are not paired in a musical, but this one works because of the setting  — a church where the audience is the congregation — the occasion — a Saturday night sing — and the terrific voices of the Plaza troupe, which blends together in 21 church stalwarts such as “The Church in the Wildwood,” “A Wonderful Time Up There,” “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”

It’s sort of like a Gaither Homecoming concert, where every song is sung by the Gaither Vocal Band, or perhaps a song service at your church, where the hymns are sung by the best quartet or trio, and in between songs, the pastor and deacons present side-splitting comedy routines.

The setting is a Saturday night in 1937 at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Chatham County, N.C.

The congregation is welcomed by Maude (double cast with Corliss Cornils and played by Judy “GiGi” Barnett on the night I attended) and Myrtle (Taffy Geisel), the Bible-toting, scowling, every-church-has-them little-ol’-ladies who have occupied their seats forever in “Amen Corner.”

Their contributions are a dim light bulb that hangs over the 160-seat theater-in-the-round, and Bible Belt conservative scowls at everything. But watch them throughout, because their non-verbal communications are priceless.

The story — the first of a trilogy — is about Burl (Alvarado’s Kevin Poole) and Vera Sanders (Arlington’s Darcy Farrington), patriarch and matriarch of the Sanders Family Gospel Singers, who are invited to the church by Pastor Mervyn Oglethorpe (Plaza favorite Jonathan Metting) to witness and sing.

The family of musicians includes Burl’s elbow-bending brother Stanley (Cleburne’s JaceSon Barrus), teenage twins Dennis (double cast with Cleburne’s Parker Barrus and Andrew Guzman on the night I attended) and Denise (double cast with Cleburne’s Tabitha Barrus and, on the night I attended, Burleson’s Kasi Hollowell) and would include older sister June (Blum’s Camille Shaw) if only she could sing. But she can’t. Instead, she signs the words — not according to American Sign Language-established images, but according to her unique and hilarious imagination and invention.

Shaw is a scene-stealing hoot, even to the point that, when Hollowell, who has been an ensemble singer and dancer in three recent Plaza productions, finally gets the chance to use her outstanding voice in a solo number called “I’ll Never Die, I’ll Just Change My Address,” she is almost unheard over the laughter resulting from Shaw’s antics. It’s funny, funny stuff, but Shaw is in every scene and I would have liked to listen to Hollowell’s one-time solo without interruption.

But Hollowell is in other numbers and really shines in a trio with Farrington and Guzman.

But, we digress. Burl, the owner of a local gas station, decides to take his family back on the road when business begins to fall off after a station down the road begins selling beer. Still suffering from the effects of the Great Depression, Mount Pleasant residents are becoming worried as the Mount Pleasant Pickle Plant, the area’s primary employer, begins laying off workers at an alarming rate.

The Sanders, who arrive late because their vehicle overturned when it slid on pickle brim escaping from the plant, lead the sing by quoting Bible texts to fit every situation and spontaneously breaking into hymns, accompanied on the piano by Cousin Melva (musical director Cheri Dee Mega) and a combination of cousins Beuford, Jethro and Forrest (Bob Gracey, and Mike Medley on the bass, Parker Barrus and Stephen Singleton on guitar and Howard Geisel on fiddle).

Each member of the family takes a few minutes to deliver a monologue, a sort-of testimonial or brief summary of their station in life.

The themes are poignant (Barrus), historical and philosophical (Poole), and revealing (Farrington, Guzman, Hollowell and Shaw). All are delivered with the emotion, timing and passion that has become synonymous with the talent on display at the Plaza Theatre Company.

Regular Plaza attendees know Barrus can sing from his lead in “Will Rogers Follies.” But in “Smoke,” he delivers a great monologue about his wayward life, followed by a solo of “Meet Mother in the Skies,” which gets right to the point. Meanwhile, Farrington, Guzman and Hollowell are outstanding singers and are a delight to listen to in everything they do.

Poole, in his sixth PTC production as actor or director, has a strong yet comfortable baritone voice, consistent with the strong, yet gentile, head of the family.

Metting, most recently seen as Joseph in PTC’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and other prominent roles in “Hello, Dolly” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” looks just like a young pastor ready to break with tradition. Watch his facial expressions and the non-spoken communication between he and Shaw as they fall for each other.

There are some silly songs, too, such as the ensemble collaborating on “Christian Cowboy.” You’ll enjoy PTC veteran Farrington’s take on a “children’s story” about a Junebug that has a disastrous and hilarious ending.

Woven throughout the musical numbers is the “signing” of Shaw, who is absolutely a hoot as she uses her entire body and a few clever props to convey the meaning of the words.

Watch her facial expressions, the expressions of the actors on the periphery of the main action and — every now and then — catch a glimpse of the ladies in Amen Corner as they react with shock and disgust to just about everything.

Listen, too, for Guzman’s mellow tenor voice on his songs.

When Plaza opened in 2007, one performance of “Smoke” attracted an audience of three people, Barrus wrote in his director’s notes in the program. Now, PTC has more than 950 season ticket holders, with sales for 2012 to be capped at 1,000.

This is a must see. I saw Plaza’s 2010 version of “Smoke on the Mountain, Homecoming,” the third of the trilogy, three times. I’ll return for at least that many visits for this funny, inspirational and thoroughly enjoyable trip back in time.

Conceived by Alan Bailey and written by Connie Ray with musical arrangements by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick, “Smoke on the Mountain,” directed by Barrus with assistance from Solomon Abah, stage management by Jay Cornils, light design by Cameron Barrus and William Young; costumes designed by Kara Barnes; set design, painting and construction by JaceSon Barrus, Jodie Barrus, Parker Barrus, Soni Barrus, G. Aaron Siler, Milette Siler, Luke Hunt and Dora Hunt is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 10 at the Plaza Theatre, 111. S. Main in Cleburne.

Tickets — $15 for adults, $13 for age 65 and older, $13 for students and $12 for age 12 and under — are available at the box office or by calling 817-202-0600.

Fun photos of our SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN cast in action

Well, SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN is in full swing and it’s going like gangbusters. The show plays through September 10th, so we hope you get your tickets soon. Until then, here are some live-action photos of our amazing cast in action. Once again, these were taken by our terrific in-house photographer Ginny Rodgers. Enjoy!

Reservations are available by calling 817-202-0600 and more information is available by visiting

Another Delightful Review of SMOKE, this by Mark Nobles of the Cleburne Times-Review

More positive word is coming in about SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN. This weekend is nearly full, but there are still seats going forward. Read on for a fun critique of the show.


AMEN CORNER RETURNS TO PLAZA FOR ‘SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN’ by Mark Nobles of the Cleburne Times-Review

It’s a family reunion of sorts whenever the Sanders Family rolls into the Plaza Theatre. They have been making regular appearances from the “Smoke on the Mountain” trilogy since the second-ever show staged by the Plaza in the old location in 2007.

This incarnation of the “Smoke” cast is as good as any of the previous and the fresh faces add life and spark no matter how many times you have seen the past productions.

Jonathan Metting likely has the biggest shoes to fill as he steps into the pivotal role of young Rev. Mervyn Oglethorpe. Metting plays the neophyte reverend with perfect comic timing and his shy enthusiasm is endearing and infectious. With all the attention the Plaza has been getting from area theater awards organizations, Metting should clear off space on his mantle because his performance has to be the highlight of any theater company’s season.

Kevin Poole also has to overcome strong past performances as the Sanders Family patriarch Burl. Poole acquits himself admirably and has a strong clear voice that blends perfectly with the ensemble.

Plaza veteran Camille Shaw steps back into the comic role of June Sanders, the one Sanders that does not sing, with zest and energy. June ‘signs’ many of the songs for the hearing impaired in the audience and her gangly pantomimes are both touching and hilarious.

Darcy Farrington revives her role of Vera Sanders, the matriarch of the clan with her usual brilliance. Farrington doesn’t play Vera so much as she simply seems to be the character.

Twins Denise (the boy) and Dennise (the girl) Sanders are portrayed by Andrew Guzman and Kasi Hollowell. Guzman plays the painfully shy Denise with feeling and depth and Hollowell has one of the strongest voices in a cast full of top shelf singers.

JaceSon P. Barrus is the sly one in the cast as the wayward brother Stanley Sanders. Barrus elicits empathy for the character as he struggles with his love for the gospel and attraction to the wild side of life.

The “Amen Corner” ladies of Myrtle and Maude are aptly played by Taffy Geisel and Corliss Cornils. Geisel has played her role a number of times and is the perfect church lady. Cornils steps into the role of Maude for the first time and provides just the right comic timing and self-righteous disapproval needed for the role.

Cheri Mega, Mike Melody, Parker Barrus and Howard Geisel make up the band and as usual are spot on and delightful.

“Smoke on the Mountain” has become an audience favorite at the Plaza because it is an entertaining, touching and funny musical, perfectly produced and performed.

Seating will be in short supply so make reservations early for the entire family. Just be warned that the audience portrays the congregation of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church so if you are seated close to the stage you might be pressed into the action.

“Smoke on the Mountain” runs through Sept. 10  at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, with two performances Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For information, call 817-202-0600 or visit

A fantastic review of SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN from Clyde Berry of The Column by John Garcia

Plaza Theatre Company is proud to be presenting SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN thru September 10th on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 with Saturday Matinees every Saturday afternoon at 3pm. Read on for a wonderful review of the show from The Column by John Garcia critic Clyde Berry. Then be sure to call for reservations before the seats are all gone.

_______________________SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN______________________

Reviewed by Clyde Barry, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

Each theatre seems to have certain types of pieces for which they are known. One does family friendly, another shows by youth for youth, this one is known for high production values, while that one is known for doing the gay plays. For the Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne the Smoke series should be considered a staple. The Smoke trilogy is one of the most frequently produced community shows around, on the same level as Pump Boys and Dinettes, or the Forever Plaid series. It’s a jukebox show, in this case of gospel music, which when combined with minimal technical needs makes it a low cost production with high end grosses.

There are those who would think that a gospel revue would be too churchy, judgmental, or otherwise not suited to their theatrical tastes. The Smoke series is undeniably Christian but is neither confrontational nor condemning. The characters in Smoke, namely the Sanders Family Singers, and the Rev. Oglethorpe are dynamic creations that captivate beyond singing.

Their personal stories and relationships are equal parts of the story, and often color the songs performed. Punctuated by monologues that are motivational as well as historically interesting, the book balances well the singing as well as the speaking. Expect the usual church announcements, town busy bodies, and small town bickering, all amusing for anyone who has attended a small town church. For those still uncertain, if the music of “Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou” is enjoyable, then this will be, too.

Set in the Great Depression (with ironic similarities to now) the Sanders Family arrives at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist church where a young preacher still earning the respect of his congregation has invited them to perform. The Sanders vehicle flips over en route to the church, and the Rev. stalls a bit for time. Eventually the family shows up and between various solos, trios, and group numbers the family introduces themselves to the audience through various anecdotes.

In the Plaza production a few things are different from the scripted piece. First, instead of playing their own instruments there is a pit made up of “cousins” costumed and interacting with the cast. Plaza usually uses tracked music for their larger musicals but this live sound is quite good. It also frees up the cast to be able to perform without having to hide behind an instrument all evening, making more elaborate staging possible. Also, two church ladies have been added to the cast that are referred to in the script. Sitting in one corner they react and occasionally provoke reactions during the show adding another layer of audience interaction. The audience in the show is treated like the congregation so expect interaction throughout the night.

JaceSon Barrus’ set design uses foam church windows and random planks attached to the walls to establish the inside of the church. A painted wood floor has a few benches and stools ready for the singers to enter. In one corner a piano overlooks the proceedings – a simple and effective design that quickly establishes an accurate location.

The show begins with the arrival of the church ladies (Taffy Geisel and Corliss Cornils) who warm up the audience and improv their way to their corner. Eyes should be kept on them throughout the show, they stay busy. The band waits in the corner as the Reverend shows up and stalls for time while establishing the time and place.

Eventually the Sanders’ trickle in, explain the car accident, and the show within the show begins. A few things need to be sorted out though for logistical reasons. If the musicians are part of the family, how do they arrive early? Also, how do all of the props they use during the singing arrive ahead of time as well? For having been in a vehicle that overturned, everyone is remarkably put together, even folks whose hairdos they say have been ruined. In their rush to the church, how does everyone find time to primp? Also, everyone seems to know exactly where they are going and doing when they arrive; odd for a place they’ve never been to before.

Kevin Poole is the father of the Sanders clan. His Burl Sanders is genial and warm, a man determined to live by his principals even when it makes things harder. Poole ‘s vocals are solid and there is a believable chemistry between he and his wife Vera, played by Darcy Farrington.

Farrington maintains the lovable stern qualities of Vera Sanders but is not afraid to let her have moments of awkwardness or surprise. She is able to discipline her kids with a snap and a look, and has all the credibility of the mother that should not be crossed. Farrington has most of the ballads in the piece and delivers them with a simple honesty and heart that is very moving, and grounds the show in the sincerity of the music.

As the rebellious brother Stanley, JaceSon Barrus manages to sulk, smirk, and sing supportively with his family. Barrus has many moments of shtick with the Rev. who has become infatuated with some of the Sanders ladies. Stanley is the one who is redeemed in each show, showing the most regret for past transactions.

Playing the twins (at this performance) are Kasi Hollowell and Andrew Guzman as Denise and Dennis. Denise is starting to become the rebellious teen, as much as one can in the late 1930’s. Hollowell succeeds in capturing not only Denise’s innocence, but her growing confidence and ambition without resorting to cliché. Her solo singing is good as well. As Dennis, Andrew Guzman captures the shyness and nervousness of the insecure boy with a solid physical character. He looks down, stoops, and maintains a nervous face. When Dennis breaks out, it’s fun but Guzman smartly takes Dennis back to his less secure state for a realistic character.

As the Rev. Oglethorpe, Jonathan Metting brings to life a quirky, enthusiastic, goof. Metting’s facial expressions accurately capture the youthful effusiveness of the character even when relegated to watching large portions of the show from the sidelines. His comedic timing delivers many great moments of awkward revelation.

Lastly, as June Sanders the non-singing sister, Camille Shaw earns many well deserved laughs. June uses a partially made up sign language to translate the performance for the hearing impaired. With lots of percussive props, Shaw slips in and out of numbers, giddily signing and mugging away to get the attention or goat of any of her family present. She has an easy chemistry with her sister and mother, and her physical character serves her antics well.

Kara Barnes’ costumes are period appropriate with suits for the men, and dresses for the ladies. The twins are in matching denim and red, a nice touch. Even the musicians in the pit are dressed up. Cameron Barrus and William Young’s light design is basic but effective. A basic wash serves most of the show but sly shifts into area isolation with subtle color shifts highlight the serious portions of the evening without being obtrusive.

Music Director Cheri Dee Mega has done a great job preparing the cast for this performance. The harmonies are tight, voices clear, and diction good. Howard Geisel has a fun fiddle solo in the middle of one number; it would be nice to hear solos from the others as well.

Smoke on the Mountain is a fun romp through a lovable and slightly dysfunctional family gospel concert. Many of the cast have been in Smoke productions before and are therefore able to slip into these characters quite easily. This helps the “family” really have a believable dynamic even with new cast members. If any quibbles are to be found, it is that sometimes the hijinks garner such laughs that the songs sometimes get lost in the fun.

Bringing up the sound levels of the singing would help compensate for the audience laughter, especially for those who really want to hear the music. While the director note hints that this may be the last Smoke production for quite some time, it would be worth the trip to see what show has helped put this theater on the map.