One of the many fun things my friend and I did on a recent trip to the Hendersonville and Flat Rock areas was see Smoke on the Mountain at the Flat Rock Playhouse. Let me amend that sentence to “see and hear Smoke on the Mountain” because the musical was truly a rich sensory experience from the moment the preacher walked out on stage to the closing number when the cast regaled us with “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”
The singing, signing (by June), and plot were all riveting. And yes, that’s a strong word…but a well-deserved one. The antics and actions of the cast kept me engaged the entire time (nearly two hours), and if I ever felt myself sort of relaxing into the performance, WHAM, something happened to make me sit up straight…and usually laugh. And sometimes clap or shake my head with incredulity. What just happened? I asked myself when the teenagers were whisked off the stage for a dressing down by the preacher and the “prodigal son” uncle went out the back door uttering a profanity. And all the scriptural citations were amazing…and sometimes they contradicted another one. Imagine that.
But here’s what I liked the best—the stories. The musical is about a family, the Sanders, who perform at a Baptist church in the mountains one Saturday night in 1938. At some time during the performance, each person gets to take center stage and tell a story or two.
- We learn that one of the twins, Dennis, doesn’t really want to be a minister after all. That might be his mother’s aspiration for him, though. In fact, she wrote his mini-sermon for the event, a fact he tosses out to the congregation.
- His twin sister, Denise, escaped all the way to Charlotte on a bus and tried out for a part in Gone with the Wind.
- June, the youngest sister who doesn’t get to sing, fired off two or three tales in rapid succession.
- Uncle Stanley shared a memory of a big, burly, gruff man who worked with him on the chain gang. Apparently, the prodigal served time in the penitentiary before returning to the bosom of his family. And that big burly man Stanley spoke of? Everyone knew to keep their distance from him…except for a sweet little girl who walked right over and got on his lap. She reached her small arms around his neck and gave him a hug. He cried at her tender gesture and confessed that he hadn’t been hugged since he was twelve years old.
Other cast members share their stories, too. I’ve already given away too much of the plot. But not really. I’d see and hear it again in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, the company left Flat Rock for the next destination, so even if I see it again, it won’t be in that magical location in the North Carolina Mountains.
Their stories are our stories, stories all humans can relate to. Who hasn’t wanted to have a little adventure away from home or been moved by the touch of a child? Who hasn’t chafed under the dominance of a parent, fallen on hard times, or wanted to push the blue button that makes things happen (like June)?
What I’m saying is that the music was phenomenal—both the voices of the cast and the sounds of the instruments. Beginning with Reverend Oglethorpe who walks on stage and plunks out a few notes of “Rock of Ages,” each performer was likable; we’ve all known friends or family like each of them. But again, what really cinched the deal for me were the stories.
See Smoke on the Mountain if you get the chance. In the meantime, tell your stories. Chances are good that someone needs to hear them.