FORT MILL --
Fans of family gospel ensembles, scriptural retorts and pickle plant humor will find a familiar feel to the latest Fort Mill Community Playhouse offering.
“Sanders Family Christmas” runs Nov. 8-11 and 15-18, reuniting audience members with the Sanders family from last year’s well received, “Smoke on the Mountain.”
“It’s actually a trilogy and this is the second one,” said Susan Benfield, playhouse vice president. “The entire cast is coming back.”
Last year’s show had a small-town minister introducing his congregation to a family singing group with several characters, including a Bible-reciting mother and a sign linguist. “Sanders Family Christmas” catches up with the group several years later, in 1941, as they’ve “hit it big” and a preacher son is going off to war.
Dave Gay, playhouse president, said there was “no question of changing a good thing” when it came to show selection.
“Our run of ‘Smoke on the Mountain’ was our most well received and praised production ever,” he said. “Given its popularity, we did not wish to mess with success.”
Despite putting productions together for 32 years, Gay said the biggest challenge for his playhouse is still getting the word out to the community. So, he hopes, familiarity from last year’s show should carry more momentum into the fall production that usual.
“Thematically this show parallels ‘Smoke’ in its combination of old Southern Gospel music with acoustic accompaniment, with some added Christmas favorites,” Gay said. “It is not really a Christmas story or show.”
The latest offering may be in line with past performances, but there are noticeable changes for the playhouse. Risers for tiered seating were added and this show brings eight rather than the usual seven dates. There will be room for 115.
“The playhouse looks completely different when you walk in,” Benfield said. “People are really going to enjoy it.”
This year, the playhouse also added “Dive Into Drama” theater camps during the summer that maxed out, and moved the “Steel Magnolias” dinner theater from fall to spring. Along with opening show “Blithe Spirit,” the playhouse collected a record number of Metrolina Theater Association award nominations with 19.
The playhouse also has plans for a strong 2013, with a planned membership gala Jan. 26 and a tribute to Andy Griffith, among other events. If “Sanders Family Christmas” is the success that members anticipate, there could even be another return in the works.
“The ending involves a surprise plot twist that should lead us into another sequel,” Gay said.