It’s interesting when a musical such as “Smoke on the Mountain” — now playing at the May River Theatre in Bluffton — succeeds when other community theater productions sometimes do not.
As a selection, it was a wise choice for the company in that not only was the production a good match for those who were cast, the musical itself has a clearly defined brand.
In other words, “Smoke on the Mountain” knows exactly what it is, who it’s intended for and doesn’t become muddled — whether by the skill of its performers or some other theatrical issues — along the way.
Set in a country church in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains in 1938, “Smoke” centers around The Sanders Family, a traveling singing group who return to their home church for a Saturday night “gospel sing” after some time away.
Throughout the course of the two-hour production, the “family” performs more than two-dozen bluegrass and gospel songs including a rousing “I’ll Fly Away” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”
While the production lacks any sort of three-dimensional plot, other than what I just described, it doesn’t really need one. It’s meant to serve as a night of music and comedy with an “old-time religion” feel to it, and the theater company does an outstanding job of delivering just that.
And while the plot is straight forward, it does provide an interesting subtext of old-school Baptists bumping up against those who are little more, shall we say, “forward thinking.”
“Dennis wants to know if you think Jesus would mind if we would put a little swing into it,” is just a brilliant line.
And with the Great Depression nearly over and World War II about to explode, it also does a nice job of hinting at bigger changes to come.
“Us Baptists are pushing on into the modern world,” says pastor Oglethorpe, a hilariously nervous, overly dramatic, deliverer of “the word” played expertly by Mark Erickson.
The humor was good as well and could even appeal to a bit broader audience than the usual church groups and retirees that tend to fill theaters whenever the musical is performed in towns around the region.
From the odd-behaving older daughter with her made-up sign language to the vaguely lusty younger daughter and her not-so bright twin brother, there’s plenty to laugh at in “Smoke.”
Other nice touches include an informal interaction between the cast and simple but effective church set, designed to make the audience feel as if they in fact are the church audience.
Two hat-wearing, old-school true believers, Ms. Myrtle and Ms. Maude, even sit with the audience to get things properly kicked off, but sit just to the left of the stage so that everyone can see their reaction to some of the more “risque” performances.
A bluegrass band, comprised entirely of cast members, rounds out the production and does an impressive job of playing together despite having never performed together prior to “Smoke.”
Director Scott Grooms and musical director Beth Corry encouraged impromptu jam sessions before diving in to any of the musical’s actual numbers, Grooms said in a previous interview,, allowing for the “band” to really come together and it shows.
If there is any criticism, it would really be just a word of caution.
If you’re expecting a story with highs and lows to unfold along the way, this isn’t the musical for you. But if you’re looking for a night of clean, family fun with lots of music and good humor, you’ll enjoy “Smoke on the Mountain” immensely.
IF YOU GO
“Smoke on the Mountain” runs through Sunday. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Tickets are $25.
Reservations may be made Monday through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. by calling the box office at 843-815-5581.
The theater is at 20 Bridge St., Bluffton.
For details visit www.mayrivertheatre.com.