Where There’s Smoke: Revival lights the fire of FSLT’s 75th season

Where There’s Smoke: Revival lights the fire of FSLT’s 75th season
BECCA MARTIN-BROWN
bmartin@nwadg.com


Meredith Rice fits right into the Sanders family in “Smoke On The Mountain.” The actress’ maiden name is even Sanders.

But beyond that, she knows intimately a world like the one created in the next Fort Smith Little Theatre production.

“My dad became a preacher when I was around 7 years old, so I grew up in small town churches,” says Rice, who plays June, part of the family of revival-leading musicians. “Small town churches can bring the biggest praise and the deepest commitments. The churches of my youth proved that.

“They were the kind of churches where we baptized people in stock tanks — there weren’t any nearby rivers or creeks in New Mexico — we had annual revivals and plenty of potlucks, our youth directors were also our math teachers and cheer coaches, and there was always enough time for a visit.”

In the play, an FSLT favorite revived this year for the theater’s 75th anniversary, it’s 1938 in the Smoky Mountains during the last years of the Great Depression, and the Sanders Family is at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church for their first performance in five years. Of course, there are complications — late performers, an overturned bus — but “every time we go through this show, I’m touched by the relationships between the family,” says director Brandon Bolin. “Through the course of the show, you find out ways that they annoy each other, disappoint each other, and even sometimes inadvertently hurt each other. But in a way that only seems possible with families, they forgive, accept, and love each other in spite of (or maybe even because of) each other’s flaws and quirks.”

This is Bolin’s first time directing a musical, but he says he’s working with an old friend, George Mann, as the musical director. And “I’m also a church music director and a big fan of bluegrass music, so in a lot of ways, this show is right up my alley.”

Mann has 30-plus years of experience with FSLT and played Burl Sanders in the original 1998 production. He says he wanted to reprise that role “while I still could” and knew that “‘Smoke on the Mountain’ would be a great show to inaugurate the 75th season.”

“The moral of ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ for me has always been that regardless of how dedicated you are to the service of the Lord, ordinary problems and foibles will provide a constant reminder that your humanity will always still be there to be dealt with,” Mann says, “and that grace from the God you serve will be sufficient.”

Mann and Rice are perfect examples of one of FSLT’s strengths, both agree. She got involved with the theater in 2019 for a production of “Beauty and the Beast,” and he has been coming back for more since 1993.

“Since my involvement has crossed nearly 30 years, the biggest change I can note is the ‘passing of the torch’ from generation to new generation,” Mann says. “Theatre matriarchs and patriarchs ensuring that new blood is constantly taking up the mantle to ensure the tradition not only survives but stays strong.”

“I appreciate that change as it means the theatre has a strong and viable future,” says Rice. “With fresh faces arriving consistently, the theatre will continue its legacy for many years to come. I also believe that audiences appreciate seeing new talent among the ‘tried and true’ veterans of the FSLT stage.”

Wesley Musgrove is brand new to FSLT as the banjo player in the Sanders Family band.

“Brandon asked me a couple months ago if I would be interested in being an instrumentalist in the show because we have a shared interest in bluegrass music, and he knew I had been playing this style of banjo with a local bluegrass group called Just Us, which is based out of the church my parents attend, Fellowship Baptist Church in Witcherville,” he says. “I knew it would be a big time commitment, but I jumped at the chance — and I’m glad I did because I’m having a blast!”

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FAQ

‘Smoke On The Mountain’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10-12; 2 p.m. Feb. 13; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16-19; and 2 p.m. Feb. 20

WHERE — Fort Smith Little Theatre, 401 N. Sixth St. in Fort Smith

COST — $20 for opening night and Valentine’s Day; $12 all other performances

INFO — fslt.org or 783-2966 (ext. 2)

Categories: Music