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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:

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It’s clear: you’ve got to see ‘Smoke’
PAUL GNADT

keenestar@thestargroup.com

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.

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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.

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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 http://www.plaza-theatre.com.

Behind-the-Scenes Gun Tricks Practice for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN

Enjoy this brief promotional video of some behind-the-scenes preparation for Plaza’s upcoming production of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.

Reserve tickets for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN today by calling the Plaza Box Office at 817-202-0600. The show plays from February 4th thru March 12th.

Some interesting background on Lynn and Helen Root, the writers of MAN WITH THE POINTED TOES

We thought y’all might enjoy a little information and background on the writers of MAN WITH THE POINTED TOES as well as hearing how the show became a play and was first produced. Incidentally, the first theatre to produce the show as a play, Glendale Center Theater in California, was the parent theater to Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City, Utah which is the first theatre that Producer JaceSon Barrus became aware of the show. Read on for some more fun tidbits about MAN WITH THE POINTED TOES.

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In the late 1950s, Helen Root, former editor of a Hollywood fan magazine and more recently the “Women’s” director of publicity for Warner Brothers Studio, wrote a short story about a suddenly wealthy Texas cowboy who finds himself involved with two women, one a gold digger and the other tutoring him in social graces.

Helen’s husband, Lynn Root, a prolific Hollywood screenwriter and playwright, read it and suggested that it would make a better play. So, together, they co-wrote “Man With the Pointed Toes,” which was produced at the Glendale Centre Theatre (in a suburb of Los Angeles) in the mid 60s. Before that it had been produced on NBC’s golden age of television “Matinee Theatre”. It was later optioned by Universal Pictures when the man that had directed the Matinee Theater version ended up head of that studio. Unfortunately he left Universal before anything was done with the script. After a period of time the rights reverted back to the Roots so “Man With The Pointed Toes” is again available for theatrical production. One of the first to produce it, when rights once again became available, was the Glendale Theater where it had had its theatrical debut.

Lynn Root is probably best known for his acclaimed all-black 1940 Broadway musical, “Cabin in the Sky” and its equally successful 1943 Hollywood version, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters and Duke Ellington. Root, who died in July 1997 at the age of 93, wrote several hit Broadway shows and many major Hollywood screenplays. Helen passed away three years later also at the age of 93.

Lynn was born in Minnesota and Helen was born in Nebraska. They met in Los Angeles when she was handling publicity for Warner Brothers studio and he began writing for the movies. Lynn started out as a singer and actor (he was a protégé of Antoinette Perry for whom Broadway’s Tony Awards are named), then he fell into playwriting. Among his Broadway shows were “The Milky Way” (1934). The stage version starred Brian Donlevy and Gladys George. In 1936, it became a film vehicle for Harold Lloyd and Adolphe Menjou and was remade in 1946 as Danny Kaye’s “The Kid from Brooklyn.” After moving to Hollywood, he was under contract to several studios. He wrote scripts for films that starred Cary Grant, Harold Lloyd,
Fred Astaire and Bob Hope, among others.

In November 2006 as a test the Downtown Cleburne Association partnered with JaceSon & Tina Barrus and Aaron & Milette Siler to put on a weekend of shows to prove the concept of what is now Plaza Theatre Company. MAN WITH THE POINTED TOES was the show we presented as was well accepted. Now, over four years later we are proud present this same gem of a show as our 40th production in Cleburne, Texas. We hope that you enjoy it as much as we love presenting it to you.


Bringing ANNIE GET YOUR GUN to the Plaza stage – a Director’s Journey Part 2

We thought it would be fun for our patrons and fans to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process a Director goes through in bringing a large musical to the Plaza stage. To that end, we have asked Kyle Macy, Director of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, to provide a weekly blog about his Director’s journey. This is Part Two of his Director’s Journey blog. — Plaza Producers


Annie Got Her Blog

Volume 2

When directing, I find it interesting to research everything I can about a production.  Finding old drafts of scripts, cut songs, production photos, and reviews provide a great insight into why a show is the way it is, and how it ended up that way.

There was the original Broadway production, which came after several movie treatments of the life of Annie Oakley, and even two films made by the real Buffalo Bill, only one of which exists in its entirety today.   Not to mention the thousands of dime novels and serials that had been written about these two folks.  There were so many stories about these celebrities that it was inevitable that a stage adaptation would follow, in this case in musical form (although there were plays as well, some of which starred the real Annie and Bill).

The original production, once assigned to Irving Berlin by Rogers and Hammerstein, almost fell apart as Berlin felt that writing songs to fit a specific story would essentially cramp his style.  Eventually persuaded to accept the job, Berlin wrote music and lyrics while Dorothy Fields and her brother wrote the book for her friend Ethel Merman.  They also published a straight adaptation that Dorothy felt was just as strong without Berlin’s music.

The original book is much more true to what life was like for the traveling shows of the time.  The town would get hit by the publicity troupe first, who would generate interest/excitement until the arrival of the troupe, who would parade through town, leading folks to the performance venue.   The revival version of the script resets the entire production inside a circus tent, and uses Wild West pageantry to cover scenic changes.

Other changes from the original to the Peter Stone revival version include changing the relationships of the secondary characters of Tommy and Winnie.  Tommy was originally the nephew of Buffalo Bill, and Winnie was Dolly’s daughter, instead of sister.   The treatment of all “Indian” references was addressed as well.   The butt of most punch-lines, all offensive jokes were struck including the song “I’m an Indian, Too” which includes what some consider playful pokes at Native American society with names like “Running Nose, Son-of-a-Bear, Falling Pants, Hole-in-the-Ground, and Hatchet Face” as well as gibberish language.  This song alone prompted protests outside both Broadway and eventually cinemas where the movie adaptation was shown.

What is interesting to consider is how clever Buffalo Bill was in some aspects of his marketing.  Always one to take advantage of the latest technological trends, he was one of the first to use electricity to light his show at night, made excellent use of newspapers, magazines, and eventually films to promote his productions.  An advocate for the rights of Native Americans as well as women, he was a pioneer of social change.  Biographer Larry McMurtry wrote an excellent book that chronicles the fame of Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, whom he considers to be the first American, if not worldly, superstars.

However, if Annie Oakley were alive today, she would sue Broadway and win.  While one can expect a bit of artistic license in creating a theatrical biography, AGYG is only very loosely based on the real Annie Oakley.  Phoebe Ann Moses (her real name) was the daughter of Quakers who moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio for a better life.  While proud of her sharpshooting skills, Annie would never brag or showboat the way her “character” does.  Nor would she ever wear anything but modest Victorian style attire.   In fact, Annie spent much of her fortune suing over 55 newspapers who “erroneously” published stories about her that she shoplifted to sell items for her cocaine addiction.   Feminists would attempt to secure her in their cause to no avail.  While she advocated for women to be able to handle themselves with a gun, she would refrain from political activity.

Also, the timetable of events is very much off, out of order, or made up.  For example – Sitting Bull did indeed meet Annie and call her Little Sure Shot, but he only stayed with the Wild West Show for four months.    Annie was also not the only female sharpshooter, nor even the first, and was wary of others in the same show with her.

In any event, discovering the real people involved in this story has been intriguing, and Plaza’s production of AGYG will endeavor to find a balance between presenting historically accurate information when possible, as well as the fun storytelling.    This revival version production will feature one cut song added back in to enhance the character arc for one of the men.   As of now, all the other numbers and verses are still in as well, but as rehearsals turn into runs, some things may fall under the knife for the sake of time.

How much of the production concept will make it from the page to the stage?  What bumps will be encountered in the next weeks?  Plans and designs are all well and good, but once budgets and build times get determined, things often change.  Drastically.   Check back again in a week to see how well things are faring.

Kyle Macy – Director, Annie Get Your Gun

Please Sign up for The Column

Hello PlazaCo fans,

As you know, in the past, we at Plaza have encouraged you to sign up for The Column by John Garcia’s theatre newsletter. To repeat, it’s a great resource for keeping up with casting news, other local theatre productions and so on. Being a member also allows you the privilege of voting for the annual “Column Awards”. These awards are voted upon annually by Column members and presented at a wonderful Gala in March. This year, Plaza has several productions we’re hoping might receive some recognition, but this is where we are looking for your help. If you are interested, please sign up. If you join by today (December 1st) you will be eligible to vote for this year’s awards. And it couldn’t be easier, just follow the instructions below:

Subscribing is easy:

Send an email to: thecolumnbyjohngarcia@yahoo.com

Subject line: SUBSCRIBE to THE COLUMN

…Include in email:

– FULL NAME

– PHONE NUMBER

– PHYSICAL ADDRESS

(for validation purposes since they are getting so close to voting season)

Please consider joining The Column by John Garcia. You’ll be glad you did.

Have an exceptional day.

We’re competing for #1 on WFAA’s A-List

Every year WFAA – channel 8 hold a public vote for their “A-List” where they award the best of different companies and services in North Texas.  Right now Plaza Theatre Company is in FIRST PLACE but we need your help to stay there.  To vote just click the graphic above and then click on “Vote for Us!”

While there, you will have the opportunity to vote for addition all businesses in the area that you think deserve recognition from the “A-List”.

OUR MISSION at Plaza Theatre Company is to enrich the community with high quality, family-friendly entertainment that warms the heart, uplifts the spirit, and tells worthy stories. To provide volunteer opportunities for those in the community and offer educational experiences for children, teens, and adults to develop artistic talents and learn the theatre craft.

Here are some photo samples of some of our best work:

"Aida" - 2009

"Singin' in the Rain" - 2009

"The Music Man" - 2009

"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" - 2010

"All Shook Up" - 2010

"Into the Woods" - 2010

"Over the River and Through the Woods" - 2010

We at PlazaCo would be honored if you would take a moment to vote for Plaza Theatre Company in this year’s WFAA “A-List”.

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